Timmie Pollock, Ph. D , C.C. – AASP
Equestrian Athlete Sport Psychologist
Your Horse Is Your Mirror Series
The Horse-Human Partnership Part 2
Some riders try to heal old emotional wounds through their relationships with their horses. In some cases, this “equine therapy” can work wonderfully. Horses and other animals can provide loving, safe relationships that, for some people, eclipse the ones they had as children with their primary caretakers. In other words, however, this attempt to use a horse as an instrument of self-help can go terribly wrong.
Another weekend clinic in which I participated was attended by three women, all of whom had horses that ranged from difficult to dangerous. The dangerous horse was so bad that the dressage instructor ultimately refused to work with it. All three horses, it turned out, had previously been mistreated; the women had bought them in order to help them “get over” the abuse through the use of “love and patience.” What’s more, we clinicians learned, all three women had themselves been abused as children.
Although the women’s intentions were laudable,the realities of dealing with mistreated horses were clouded by their need to work through the aftereffects of their own abuse. Each woman was risking serious injury by handling and riding her horse, and none fully understood why she was making these particular choices. I never saw the women again after the clinic. I can only hope that everything worked out and that no one got hurt.
nother common theme I hear is that the rider feels that they are “letting their horse down” by not being good enough to show him at his best. One of my clients, whom I’ll call Ellen, had unexpectedly inherited a great deal of money. Able to afford her own horse for the first time, she bought a really nice one. Soon people began to make unkind remarks about her riding, evidently out of envy at her ability to purchase such a top-class animal.
Ellen overheard some of the comments. When she came to me, she was contemplating selling her horse because “I can’t do him justice, and he deserves better.”
I asked her: “Do you treat him well?”
“Oh yes; I love him very much,” Ellen replied. “He has the best food, lives in a lovely barn at night, with three acres to play in during the day.”
“So,” I said, “do you really think he would be happier busting his buns at Grand Prix, living in a ten-by-ten portable stall fifteen weeks out of year; or is he OK living the life he has?”
“But I don’t deserve such a nice horse,” Ellen repeated. It turned out that Ellen believed that, because she hadn’t earned the money herself, she wasn’t entitled to use it to do anything nice for herself.
“Are you a bad person? Are you mean, dishonest, hateful toward others?” I asked. “No. I try to be a good person,” Ellen responded. “Then this horse has a job,” I said. “Enjoy him, and let him enjoy you. He doesn’t need anything more than that.”
Ellen wrote me a few months ago to tell me that she is finally having fun with that nice horse of hers. She plans to compete him at Third Level this year and hopes to earn her USDF bronze medal. She has also found a charity that she enjoys supporting, and she feels fortunate to be able to contribute her time and money to a worthwhile cause.
Dr. Pollock is a Clinical and Sport Psychologist based in La Jolla, California. She has worked exclusively with equestrian athletes from all disciplines of riding for over 20 years. In her practice she uses a variety of techniques including biofeedback, hypnosis, EMDR and TFT in addition to the basics of mental skills training.
Dr. Pollock is a lifelong horse owner, breeder, and rider and has competed for over twenty-five years, primarily in dressage. She has also competed in Hunter/Jumper and Eventing divisions as well. She can be found on her new equestrian athlete Sport Psychology at EQUExcellence.com