Not About the Horse
"My name is Wyatt," he says to the seven people in front of him. "Welcome to the Equine Experience."
musty smell of horse lingers in the air, and for no reason at all, a 1,300
pound chestnut gelding named Monsoon rears and tears off in a farting,
sweating gallop. This is his way of welcoming people. Monsoons massive
body, thick mane and tail fly through the air and he releases a high-pitched
scream that rips into your eardrums and rattles your insides.
By the looks on their faces, these people are ready for an experience of joy. They dont appear to have felt it for some time. They miss the feeling and thats why theyre here.
Wyatt starts the session by telling these folks that hes not here to change anybodys life. "I dont have the power to do so," he says. "I dont have your answers. Im not here to argue with or discredit traditional therapeutic modalities. Im not accusing anybody of doing a shitty job or saying that traditional psychotherapy isnt helpful. But I certainly hope that we can add to whatever already exists in the therapy world as you know it."
Wyatt then shares what Logan, the counselor who helped save his life, his mind and his very soul 22 years ago told him: If youre to achieve the peace, joy, and spiritual fulfillment that you want so badly, it depends upon one thing and one thing onlyyour willingness to simply do something different.
Wyatt has been a practicing therapist for a number of years, but his tools dont involve a leather couch and his helpers dont arrive in suits or high heels. "Youre going to clean some hooves," he tells the group, "and youre going to groom the horse.
"How you relate to this animal will tell us what youve learned over the course of your lifetime concerning how you relate to all living things. Your basic training has come from learning how to treat people." He pauses and adds, "Remember one thing: Its not about the horse. I can teach you a few basic skills that will keep you safe in any barn in the world, but what were here to look at is what youve learned over the course of your lifetime that either works for or against you in your relationships."
He stops for a second and then continues. "Keep in mind that youve been conditioned to be externally focused in all of your relationships. This is one of the true impediments to our being able to learn anything about ourselves. Let me ask you this: How much time do you spend during the day wondering what others are thinking and feeling, and concocting stories about why theyre behaving as they do? See, as long as Im focused on you in such a manner, it will be impossible for me to connect with you because Im not present with myself.
"So, what I suggest you do is pay attention to what youre thinking and pay attention to what youre feeling. Know that these two things dictate the way you live your life. By focusing your attention internally as opposed to externally, youll be able to be present enough to connect with any other living thing, which will also cause you to take responsibility for your life and how you live it.
"I wont judge you, but I will observe. I pledge to tell you the truth, to be kind, but sometimes to be blunt. Together, lets examine the stories youre making up to see how many of them are based in reality. Personally, prior to the age of 36, almost every story I had was based in a lie."
it clear that the person dealing with the horse is the one who tells the
Wyatt turns to the group and says, "Weve been imprinted. Were born being called bundles of joy. Well, thats true. Babies generally are full of joytheyre born happy and remain so unless theyre hungry or experiencing some discomfort. Once thats alleviated, theyre right back in the joy state. Theyre at one with everything when they arrive on the planet. They run on pure emotion.
"They dont know what it means to doubt themselves or to be afraid until about five days into the trip, when they begin to soak up the energy of the adults," Wyatt says. "Then they feel the inconsistency. At this point in time, welcome to a world full of scary people.
"Every culture Ive ever been subjected to appears to be frightened," he explains. "Ive been working as a psychotherapist for 20 years. If I could boil down every problem that ever walked through any office that Ive occupied and this includes when Ive been alone in the office every human being suffers from two things in varying degrees of intensity, two things that are taught to us. Theyre called self-doubt and fear.
the fear of physical harm and of emotional harm. Theres the fear
of not being good enough. Theres the constant fear of being discovered.
Anyone who really wants to grow, expand and know who they are has to travel
uncharted territories all the time. So that kind of person has
his head and tells a story about what he learned from Monsoon about a
about to move into a canter for the third time, and again I felt that
I was off balance. This time, I was determined to win. I said, The
hell with it, and cued him anyway. Monsoon shifted his massive frame.
I was so off that most of my weight shifted forward, which in the horse
"In that humiliating, spirit-crushing, bone-aching, ah-ha! moment, a light bulb went off in my head. I thought to myself, I finally get it. Anytime Im in a relationship with any living thing and I have the need to win, the possibility for connection and closeness is over. All I ever wanted was that closeness and connection. In fact, I think were all homesick for it."
He goes on to explain that hes never had that same issue with Monsoon again. "Ive had that problem with a few people," Wyatt laughs, "but Ive been able to reign it in because when I find myself trying to win, its time to stop. Because somebody has to lose. This whole culture is set up this way. Weve got to win, which means were going to lose. It means that we cannot even hope to connect with each other."
For Wyatt, its all about connection, and the first step to healing is connecting with a horse. The issues that show up when we move to connect include mental, physical and emotional abuse not limited to marriages on the rocks, parent-child relationships gone bad, and much worse concerns including rape and abandonment.
The group is brought into a large arena and each person is told to choose one of the six large, inquisitive horses waiting for them. Next to each animal is a small bucket with tools to clean the horses hooves and various other grooming utensils associated with preparing a horse for saddling. Wyatt tells everyone to approach his or her horse and greet the animal at its shoulder.
He takes one young man aside and suggests that he stop rubbing the horse for dear life.
"Try to leave a little fur on the horse, because the sun is gonna come out and I dont want him to get burned," he says quietly to the young man. "You also dont need to sweet-talk him."
"Im trying to get him to like me, so hell cooperate," says the man.
"So," Wyatt asks, "is this one of your learned behaviors? Is your motto: If Im nice to you, then you must be nice to me back?"
"I guess I always try extra hard to get people to like me," says the young man. "I figure if Im the nicest person in the whole room, people will have to be nice to me back."
"Let me suggest to you the fallacy behind that one," he explains. "Youre not really being nice to anyone. Youre being manipulative. Youre only acting nice in the hopes of preventing people from rejecting you. True kindness comes with no charge. Later on, the universe just pays you back."
The mini-dramas being played out on this sandy desert floor can easily become much more serious, though. For example, Katie, a young lawyer whose parents abandoned her and sent her to live in various foster homes is afraid of her horse because shes scared to death of being rejected again.
"If you walk through your fear that something must be wrong with you, then what you always find on the other side is that theres nothing wrong with you. And theres nothing to be afraid of," he tells her.
"What happens then?" the woman asks, sobbing.
you get to that other side, theres only one thing waiting