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When I first came to the Spirit of the Phoenix, I was a bit like the proverbial rabbit in headlights.
In my mid-sixties, after having had a career and raising my child, I wondered what I would do with the (hopefully many!) years I had left. What did I need to do to give my life meaning and purpose?
To add to the mix, there were some physical challenges. Arthritis in both knees and lower back, makes movement very painful at times. I also have a long history of depression, which every now and then made a reappearance. With these challenges, even if I could figure out what I wanted to do, would I be able to do it?
At my advanced age, I felt like a teenager going through an identity crisis - with the added complication of an old, not so able body. How could I connect with my own inner wisdom to find the right path?
Maybe the horses could help. I have always loved horses, and have found being in their presence deeply moving, healing and revitalising.
Getting to know Red and Mac, learning to read their signals and be part of their herd, has been all of those things. They and the other horses have given me so much over the last two years, and I find that every time I meet a new herd, I learn something new - about the horses, and about myself. One of the things I have begun to learn from them is that it is OK to BE rather than DO - it comes naturally to horses, and to people too, if we allow it.
ALLOWING is something we can all learn to do, I think.
Today, a glorious, perfect summer day - blue sky, bright sunshine, gentle breeze - I was eager to go out into the field to see Red and especially Mac, with whom I feel a very strong connection. And, as always, I was eager to meet the temporary member of the herd.
As usual, when we walked out into the field, the horses looked up from their grass-chomping and ambled over to check us out. I always greet them all eagerly and enthusiastically, and generally get quite a bit of enthusiasm back.
Today, though, the energy was different. The horses were more chilled out, and after some polite greetings, and beautiful hello from Mac and a little horsey conversation with him, they clearly wanted to get back to their grazing in the sunshine. I picked up a brush and tried some grooming, but no one seemed interested.
I started getting a little anxious. I only had an hour. "Come on, guys!" I thought. "We have to make the most of the time! WE have to DO something together, have some interaction, make time meaningful"
Hmmm. That sounds familiar! said a little voice in my head.
I looked around at the herd, contentedly being together, just enjoying the warmth, the sweet grass, each other's company. I sat down nearby and simply watched and allowed myself to be part of the field, the herd, the day.
And a great sense of peace and contentment came over me - the same peace and contentment I saw in the herd. By allowing myself to BE, rather than trying to control the situation and DO things, I became part of the peaceful energy of the herd. I started feeling more than peace and contentment; I started feeling joy. And I allowed that feeling to take over.
Something interesting started to happen. The horses began to move closer, and gradually came to surround me - as if they were embracing me taking me into the herd. I genuinely felt surrounded by love.
One horse, Phoenix, came right to me and put his head close to mine - an incredibly tender gesture of love and acceptance. I felt a deep connection, really beautiful - as if he was saying "See? This is what happens when you allow things just to be. You don't have to get stressed and worried about doing. The joy comes from just allowing things to be what they are."
So I learned something very valuable from Phoenix and the herd today, and came away with new sense of peace and acceptance.
I am less worried about making my life meaningful now. I'm learning to trust that if I allow it, the meaning will come to me.
Spirit of the Phoenix is the place to be with Red Mac and the gang for company
Even though the world seems a scary place it never seems it in their space
I am safe your never alone they will always welcome you in their home.
Red will teach you not to be afraid she will be your mentor and friend in every way helping you relax on a sunny day.
Mac is strong and very wise he can even help you to revise.
Don't be deceived by his size underneath that exterior he will surprise.
Mac dark bay loves to eat lots of hay green is his favourite colour he would have no other.
Red's colour is orange of course a carpet of carrots is what she dreams "how right" she says "they make my coat gleam".
Obstacles can get in the way in our lives but at the Spirit of the Phoenix you can work them out so when you go away the memories are there bringing joy confidence and love everywhere.
Before discovering Spirit of the Phoenix, our client was struggling through life, avoiding stressful situations and panicking at the thought of exams. Her life was led by the anxiety she faced every day, decisions were made based on her fears and insecurities. This had a huge negative impact upon her performance both inside and outside of the classroom. Her relationships with others in school were strained, as she was so consumed with the anxiety and panic. She couldn't focus in class and found that participating and answering questions or being put on the spot were too challenging and difficult to face.
Working at liberty with Mac, our old, 16hh gentleman, she rediscovered what it was to trust herself and her actions again. She began to focus her attention on what she wanted to achieve and how she could action this, rather than what she was afraid of and what she could not achieve. This calmed her thoughts and she was finally able to relax.
In the beginning, she found it difficult to communicate with Mac. He was reading her and his response was exactly what the client required at the time. She needed to assert herself, seize the situation and banish the doubt in her mind. The fear that was driving her before was not going to move him now; he had no reason to trust her. Mac showed her how each negative thought was impacting upon her actions, and compounding her anxiety.
She soon discovered that the only way to gain his confidence and respect was to assert herself and have confidence in her own ability. Through this, she was able to change her thinking to a less stressed, more focused state of mind. Before long, they were working together extensively at liberty.
This was then transferred to her everyday life at school and at home. Mac and Naomi have taught her to stand up for what she believes in and not be afraid to express her opinions , even if it means giving the wrong answer in class. She has learned that stress and anxiety can be managed and that by avoiding these situations, she is only exacerbating the fear.
She is no longer afraid to dream and to work towards her long term goals.
After spending most of her life terrified of horses, her worst nightmare was about to come true: her daughter wanted riding lessons. Before this, she was able to avoid equine encounters by taking huge detours while out hiking (a passion).
But to take this wish away from her little girl due to her own fear was unacceptable, so she reluctantly agreed. Each week when the time came around to drop her daughter off at the stables she would wake with a sense of dread for what was about to happen. Facing her fear was not likely, she would drive to the yard, stay in the car and watch her daughter leave. Unable to move - her fear debilitating.
The fear compounded into guilt as she couldn't watch her daughter learn to ride, or see her accomplishments with the horses. She began to regret the choices she was making and decided that the example she was setting to her daughter was not conducive with the environment in which she was bringing her up.
Convinced her fear would not go away, but determined to do something about her growing anxiety levels, she contacted Spirit of the Phoenix.
Through equine therapy (the animal she was so afraid of) she was able to overcome her anxiety and she is now learning to ride!
Naomi and Red have granted her more self awareness, a deeper self confidence and self respect. She now feels she can accomplish anything with perseverance. She has even learnt to open and close a gate on horseback (something many riders aspire to)!
With determination and having the right information to be able to teach the horse and lead the horse through each activity she has enabled herself to take control of the situation and develop her assertiveness.
She hasn't looked back since and now looks forward to watching her daughter ride, as well as spending her own time at Spirit of the Phoenix with Red and Mac.
Before she discovered the peace surrounding horses, the autism was debilitating. The sensory pain was unbearable and sleep was her only respite. She was labelled as 'moody' and a 'zombie' due to her disconnection from the world.
Misdiagnosed in the beginning as depression, she struggled to cope with new people and couldn't be alone outside of her home. She also suffers from a limited sensation in her legs, which means that she bumps into things, bruises easily and falls over. This heightened the anxiety she felt. Eye contact was a problem and small talk with others was impossible. Getting out of bed was a struggle as facing the world and all of it's judgement was too much.
Working with Red and Mac has opened doors for her that she could never have imagined. After only a short amount of time, she discovered that she could communicate with the horses very effectively (it has been said that horses themselves show traits of autism). Her natural rapport with the horses was immediately apparent and stirred within her, a desire to develop her horsemanship skills. The dedication she has shown to the horses is exceptional - she is still honing her talents as you read this (with horses you never stop learning).
The horses have taught her what it feels like to be accepted. She now feels connected and a part of a world in which she belongs. Being good at something has boosted her confidence, enabling her to start working on herself. She has let go of the negative things she was holding within herself and learnt how not to waste time and energy on situations that don't benefit her.
As a result of this, she can now talk to new people; making eye contact is not as much of a problem. This has led her to make new friends and create a life for herself. She has learnt to understand how she is feeling and is now able to communicate that with others. She has learnt that she doesn't have to follow societies path, and instead follows her own dreams. She doesn't allow people to dictate how she is feeling, trusts herself and the choices she makes.
She is following her dreams and working with horses now, learning as much as she can and helping the horses to understand humans better. The numbness she felt for life has gone and she has since bought her own, beautiful horse with whom she can now take on the world!.
Dissociated Personality Disorder (DID), previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is a mental disorder that results in two or more distinct 'personalities' that show in a person's behaviour. These alternating personality states are then followed by memory impairment that cannot be explained by the usual forgetfulness. DID can be triggered by a traumatic life event, in this case, it was initiated as a form of protection.
This is a story of transformation, acceptance and how a 'sufferer' of DID learned to love herself.
The identity of this person remains anonymous for protection purposes.
When she first came to Spirit of the Phoenix, she felt isolated, unloved and misunderstood. The condition means she is unemployable, as she never knows who will be waking up in the morning! Certain situations can trigger a child like state that leads her to cope with challenges differently to that which society deems acceptable. Before Spirit of the Phoenix came into her life she was incredibly aware of this fact and as a result suffered low self-esteem, low confidence and lacking in communication skills. Relationships were strained as she felt that she would be a burden to others and that they could not cope with her emotional reactions. Their assumptions and expectations of 'normal' behaviour were becoming too much and she valued herself less and less.
Enter Red, Mac and Naomi...
Through Equine Assisted Therapy, Naomi led sessions with both Red and Mac to work on self love, communication and teamwork. The lack of judgement and pure truth from the horses created a setting in which she could thrive. Red and Mac's unconditional love and lack of expectation allowed her to open up in a non-discriminating, accepting environment. Through the challenges faced during the therapy sessions she learned coping mechanisms that now enable her to quash the triggers that send her into the protective behaviour states.
Together they created a memory book and videos, which allow her to tap into her experiences with the horses. Whenever she is feeling vulnerable, she is able to go back to that place of truth and stability. Enabling her to regain control and navigate her way through various social situations in the real world.
Through various emotional activities carried out at Spirit of the Phoenix, she has learnt her true self worth, improved her confidence and has established building blocks on which to grow.
She set many goals with Naomi, Red and Mac, the biggest of which was to ride Red. However, she wanted to be a certain weight beforehand. She therefore set herself the target to lose three stone, which she achieved in six months flat. The days on end spent under the duvet are a thing of the past as she now has the confidence to exercise outside, enjoying riding her bike and walking the dog.
The tools she has gained from working with the horses have enabled her to attend social and family gatherings as well as maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. She requires far less support from others as she is now able to cope with the everyday pressures of life. She is taking on more and more responsibilities and now feels that she can help and support others in their difficulties.
Her view of her 'disability' is now that of a gift; it has served as protection for her in times of trouble. But most of all it has brought people and opportunities into her life that she would never have experienced without it.
In her own words, she now describes something that we can all strive to achieve,
"Everyone is unique. Through having my disability I have discovered that it is OK to be me. That even though I am divided within myself, that I am whole - and that is what I am proud of. Accepting all parts of myself and loving them. My disability has taught me that I am important and deserve to live, to have a life, and most of all enjoy it! That I can laugh and have a joke. Spirit of the Phoenix and Equine Assisted Therapy has revealed my sense of humour".
She offers one further piece of advice "Be yourself! Love yourself for who you are and your uniqueness!".
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