Yes, this is a story about the time a therapy horse bit me on the ass.
The best therapists practice what we preach, i.e. we see a therapist of our own. It helps us process our “stuff” so we can continue holding space for our clients day after day. It’s also just good mental hygiene.
I think of it as three parts self-care and one part professional development.
But sometimes therapy hurts. Just usually not actual physical pain.
Anyway, I’m fortunate to see a therapist (Marcy) who has a herd of horses and other farm animals. Last month Marcy invited a tired mare and her new colt into the family. Mama Horse had been worked hard in her life–you could see it in the scars and rough spots on her body–but she’s now in a place where she can rest, play, and raise what will probably be her last baby.
Like most animal-lovers I went all gooey over the colt the moment I saw him. His big soulful eyes and fresh glossy coat begged for a snuggle. He walked me into the stall where Mama was having a nibble and I tentatively asked her if I could touch her mane. She didn’t respond, but the colt continued pushing us together, so I stroked her neck.
Emmett the therapy dog followed us into the crowded stall, rolled onto his back, and asked for a belly rub. A nosy pug joined us next. There may have been a chicken wandering through–really she has a lot of animals.
Marcy asked me how I was doing and I started sharing what was on my mind. A little stress here, a little uncertainty there, but mostly just feeling overwhelmed by the jarring lack of personal space in my new COVID-19 lifestyle.
“How could you communicate your needs to your family?” Marcy asked in that empathetic, open-ended style good therapists utilize.
I paused, overthinking and stalling myself out. And then? A sharp pain jabbed through my left asscheek! I yelped and jumped away from Mama Horse. I saw then that the colt, the pug, Emmett, and I had crowded her into the corner where she could barely reach her hay.
“Did she just bite you in the butt?” Marcy asked incredulously.
I laughed and backed further away, giving Mama Horse more personal space. “I guess she answered that for me,” I replied. Marcy nodded sagely, “Sometimes we all need a kick in the pants.”
Here’s your self-care tip for the day: Communicate your needs before you get to the point of having to bite someone in the ass.
This is what I love about animal-assisted therapy. Not getting nipped in the nethers by cranky mares, of course. That was a first in my experience.
But sometimes words aren’t enough to convey our thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes we have to be bold about getting our needs met. Sometimes we have to suffer a bite in the ass before we speak up, or perhaps give someone close to us a metaphorical kick in the pants. What happened in that stall was a life-sized diorama of how I was feeling. Mama Horse played the part of me and she told us all, “hey, I need space.”
Lesson learned, Mama Horse.
Annalisa & Benji
P.S. Join our Intro to Animal-Assisted Therapy course, available now for $49!