If a trigger was a person, it would be my family. I know y’all can relate. From a cultural perspective, Caribbean families just don’t respect or understand boundaries. A lot of my anxiety is rooted in trauma and it was in March 2021 when my anxiety decided to act up. I had just been released from my previous therapist in October 2020 too. I knew I needed to find a new therapist to work through whatever remnant of trauma was still inside of me. I thought I was done with therapy after a past life regression and hypnotherapy session but managing mental health is a bitch.
So, I decided to search for mental health providers that accepted my health insurance. It was hard because finding a new therapist is like a blind date. You don’t know how you will connect until the first session.
I was able to narrow down my choice to Dr. Amber Fasula. I emailed her with my history and medical records via email. A few days later she responded with a recommendation to try equine-assisted therapy (EAT), or horse therapy. Horse therapy is a psychotherapy that involves interaction with horses through a range of activities. I had previously written and read about how horse therapy helps children with behavioral problems or autism. But what I didn’t know was horse therapy can help adults who are clinically diagnosed with anxiety, depression, PTSD or have experienced trauma.
I was the perfect candidate because I was struggling with all of it. I didn’t know what I was getting into but horses are my favorite animal. So, I was willing to give it a try. And the best part was that my health insurance covered each session. I was only responsible for a small copay and a fee for caring for the horses every other week.
I was ready.
How Horse Therapy Works
My treatment program encompassed a total of 10 sessions and my first appointment was set for April. On my first day, I drove 20 minutes from my house to Crossroads Corral. I didn’t know what to expect, all I knew was that I’d essentially be outdoors. I wore an oversized t-shirt, a pair of gray joggers, and some old sneakers. After I parked and got out of my car, I was greeted by Dr. Fasula and Chessie. He was the horse trainer and was there to ensure my safety. Chessie would also be the one to interpret the interactions between the horse and me.
Dr. Fasula and Chessie led me into an open pasture. I immediately fell in love with every single horse on the property. But when they explained what I had to do next, I was completely lost (for privacy purposes, I cannot disclose specific details of the activities, but just know working with a horse was like learning a foreign language). My initial response was, “Huh? You want me to do what?” Now, I’m not scared of horses, I just never interacted with a horse so up close and personal.
And the thing is horse therapy involves a level of problem-solving where you have to figure out the solution on your own. With little to no help. It was the most challenging thing I ever did besides walking away from a six-figure salary.
I left my first session completely confused because I didn’t know how to interact with the horse. I was beating myself up for something I had no knowledge or experience in. But I loved being around the horses. For me, it was therapeutic and peaceful. What people don’t know is horses can pick up on your energy. This is how you build trust with your horse. Horses gain your trust through simple interactions. Just by petting the horse, you can see if the horse trusts you or not.
I was intrigued. I was determined. And I wanted to know more.
The first session was an introduction, but the second session was the real test. By this session, Dr. Fasula could easily see I had weak boundaries just by my interaction with the horse. I couldn’t even deny it, because it was true. So many times in my life, I’ve found that people don’t respect my boundaries or push me until I snap. This is the session that almost broke me. I had to quickly learn that logic doesn’t apply here. And I learned it the hard way because I froze for the entire 45 minutes when they asked me to complete the next task.
I didn’t even try because nothing about what I was asked to do with my horse made sense in my head. I swallowed my tears as I walked back to my car. I left this session feeling completely defeated. I wanted to give up. I didn’t even want to come back. But I knew that wasn’t an option.
I had met my truest self, and she had some things to figure out.
Showing Up To Do The Work
Before my next session, I spoke with one of my closest cousins. We will call him “R.” I expressed to him how I failed my second horse therapy session. “R” said, “You have to show up to therapy the same way you did when you decided to create a new life path.” He was right. It was now May and my third horse therapy session. Dr. Fasula asked me if I was ready to try again. I said, “Well, we’re here now and there is no turning back.” I showed up ready to do the work and it was noticeable. We repeated the same task from session two. This time I succeeded. This was the turning point. We will call it the breakthrough because now I understood I had to show up as a different Camille to ascertain the desired result.
In the following sessions, more patterns were revealed. For example, my tendency to blame myself for certain outcomes even when it’s not my fault. This behavior demonstrates how I can miss out on opportunities because of the way I internalize certain situations. I also learned about obstacles, life stages, transitions, boundaries, and communication. With each task given to me – I succeeded. I had learned what the horse needed from me for us to work together. It was beautiful.
There were times I struggled, but I attempted to try without judgment. And when I didn’t have it quite right or the right knowledge to complete the task with my horse, Chessie would step in to direct me.
Horse therapy became my safe space.
It was now August and I dreaded showing up for my final session. It was graduation day. Which meant I would no longer see my horse and my heart broke. I had learned so much about myself. What I was capable of and patterns I needed to break. Overall, equine-assisted therapy was a confidence booster. Dr. Fasula knew I didn’t want to leave. She said, “There is nothing more for you to work through.” But I just wanted to be able to see my horse. You see, horses are my spirit animal and represent freedom. And I’m a free spirit.
Since completing equine-assisted therapy my life hasn’t been the same. I manage my anxiety and PTSD better. This experience has been more effective than talk therapy, journaling, hypnotherapy, and EMDR. I still have monthly check-ins with another therapist where we engage in talk therapy, but even she said, “You don’t need me anymore.”
If you struggle with overcoming trauma or struggle with anxiety, depression, or PTSD, I would recommend looking into equine-assisted therapy.
Your patterns will reveal all that you need to know about yourself.
Featured image by Getty Images