Imagine you’re in treatment, sitting in the same room every day for months. You know the exact number of tiles on the ceiling and you can recite the slogans on the wall by heart. If you’re lucky enough, the room has windows that you can stare out as you wonder what the weather’s like. You can barely hear the facilitator because your thoughts are louder than the words. There is some great information to learn, but you just want to run out the door screaming.
Or you might be sitting in an office telling someone about your life struggles, but there is still part of you that doesn’t want to share too much. You know the lingo. You know what to say to get yourself out of that office, or to get more meds. You want to get better; you want to recover. You want your life to improve, yet you still want to run out the door screaming.
- You could be outside in the forest under the open sky while birds flew above you?
- You could lead an incredible creature around as you listened to what it has to teach you?
- You could lean on a strong, gentle creature that could take away your pain and, in return, heal you?
- You could learn about triggers, control, communication, meditation and relationships while in an arena where horses roam?
- No matter how hard you pretend that you are not feeling what you are feeling, your equine partner sees through that lie?
- Your recovery group met in such a place, with such creatures?
- You were as much a part of your horse’s healing as he is of yours?
- You could see yourself standing strong and confident?
What if someone said to you, “Let’s go paint some horses.” This idea may be completely out of your realm of comfort and a challenge that might lead you into “not knowing.” Would an experience like this increase your desire to learn and participate in your own recovery? When we are challenged in new ways and by new methods, we typically don’t respond in the same old ways. Our thinking is tested, as are our destructive belief systems and survival behaviors.
For millennia, horses have known the secret to survival. They very quickly move from being “at ease” to being “at attention” and back to “at ease.” Their nervous systems are not taxed by constant stressing. They have the ability to self-regulate, which saves them the wear and tear of anxiety. For the most part, we humans have forgotten how to do this. We grab hold of something scary and make it even bigger than it is. We see danger around every corner and live in fear that “it” will get us at any moment. We hide or run away from “it” in everything we do.
Equine-assisted Learning (EAL) and Equine-assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) create a space for people to observe and learn. It offers an opportunity to experience the natural equine power of discernment and to practice the dynamics of Re-Circle, Pressure/Pain and other life-changing concepts.
The Moving Canvas is an EAL/EAP experience that encourages the creativity portion of the brain as participants paint a therapy horse. The Heroes & Horses program in Skull Valley, Arizona, offers this experience as just one of many ways to encourage learning and healing – learning that occurs when one’s body, mind and spirit are engaged in a physical and spiritual process.
Most of us have heard the saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Using The Moving Canvas, the teacher is an animal that is uninhibited by the need to be liked or by feelings of guilt, shame or inadequacy. The horse is always in the present moment.
This exercise – creating symbols and metaphors in color, all while experiencing sadness, happiness and movement – is shared with a magic steed that helps the participant focus, stay in the present and, for a moment, leave the past behind. This exercise allows things to shift within one’s psyche – and just enough time to embrace and celebrate one’s own spirit.
A safe, yet challenging, environment in the natural world speaks to a primitive part of us. Here participants can shed the trappings of domestication and go to a primal part of themselves – back to the basics of their authentic selves. The colors carefully painted on the domesticated, once untamed, horse magically transform into a mystical representation of one’s past, present and future. It provides the perfect environment for creativity to emerge.
Addicts have been distracted from their inner selves in some very destructive ways: drugs, alcohol, sex, food, shopping, gambling – compulsive and addictive anything. Despite these distractions, the void inside an addict becomes deeper; and the destruction of self, family and friends becomes greater.
The Moving Canvas provides a fun, creative and healthy distraction. Painting a horse can create just enough mental and physical distraction to encourage the emergence of the participant’s accumulated subconscious learning. Speaking through the horse, painting and feeling, the authentic self emerges and releases pent-up anxiety.
We humans instinctively want to land on our feet. We unconsciously try to heal our wounds. With addiction, these instincts are temporarily misplaced. We may have attempted to shift our focus to the solution to our problems, but often we have no idea of exactly what to do. To mend, we must wade through all that has gotten in the way of our health and survival. Change within occurs sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly.
The unveiling of a human being in the presence of an equine partner is a gift to the Heroes & Horses facilitators. Our magnificent horses stand tall and solid for those who have not trusted in many years. We have seen tears, anger and frustration on the faces of individuals who had previously been unable to express any emotion. We’ve seen determination and courage as they’ve overcome their fears. We love what we do. We love the fact that our horses have been rescued; and that, in return, they pass that rescue on to those who need it most.
Our many thanks to the Lucky Club Rescue organization for horses and to Cherie MacKenzie, who opened her Big Horse Ranch and her heart to our program. Andrea Walker brings a lifetime of equine experience in addition to Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) certification. The Moving Canvas is art for the soul. Come be a part of this wonderful experience.
Ann Balowski, over 34 years ago, began her journey creating healing environments for people seeking life changes. Heroes & Horses, a For Clarity program, creates such an environment. Ann is a recovery life coach and EAP provider who believes in the power of horses.