The drive out to meet Belle Shook and her herd of horses was a meditation all by itself. If you’ve spent some time in Arizona and the areas surrounding the Coconino National Forest, Sedona and Flagstaff, you already know that there’s not a bad mile of trail to walk on or boring piece of land to drive through. I didn’t know, however, what I was going to experience when I connected with Belle, licensed therapist, teacher, author, healer, and guide for Equine Therapy Somatic Experiencing®. But I happily made the drive underneath the big blue Arizona skies, through winding scenic drive after scenic drive into the unknown just to see what the next three hours was going to be all about.
And I am so glad I did.
When I arrived, Belle and the horses, Penny, Salsa, and Mimi, were just finishing their breakfast and they were, dare I say, seeming to all be hanging out. I felt as if I stepped right into their home – and boy did they look like they felt at home where they were. On their massive land with expansive views in every direction, there was a fence around them but I somehow didn’t think it mattered much. All three of the horses and Belle seemed so happy to be right where they were, sharing each other’s company.
That was the first moment I knew I was going to experience something special. Belle explained to me she’s been working with her horses for 20 years. This herd, including Belle, is a family. She takes great care of them, and that makes it possible for them to engage in healing work with Belle’s clients.
Belle will tell you that everything we’d be getting up to in the next three hours is unique to what horses can offer, but not just any horse. Horses are herd animals, and they communicate largely through energy and are always aiming to create coherence among the herd, and among everyone who is around them, too. If there is a clear and present danger somewhere around them, they would want all the horses – and you – to be alert to that danger and would find it strange if your sympathetic nervous system didn’t kick in to do something about it. Alternatively, when all is well, they want to create cohesion among the herd by promoting rest, ease, and the activation of our parasympathetic state (the side of our autonomic nervous system that handles rest and digestion).
So, what does that mean for you and your session with the horses?
There will always be a little bit unknown about what you might experience with the horses, as Belle will tell you. As humans, we’re really good at analyzing, thinking (and over-thinking), and planning with the help of the prefrontal cortex in our brains. Horses don’t have a prefrontal cortex. Their nervous systems govern the way they act, react, and how they interact with us in the session. Because they are such big animals and have such massive nervous systems, they might be picking up on something that we don’t even know we are presenting. You might arrive to your session thinking you’ll explore one thing, but ultimately the horses might be picking up something entirely different.
Given the inevitable mystery of the experience, what can one still expect to dive into?
Expect to weave various meditation, mindfulness, and trauma-informed practices throughout your interaction with the horses. Bell thoughtfully introduces you to the herd and gives you guidance about how to check in with your own nervous system throughout the process of getting connected and related to the horses.
This is an experience unlike anything I’d ever done before and I really had no idea what to expect. I just came with an open mind, ready to absorb whatever it was that was presented to me. Still, my human-ness got in the way often as I felt myself thinking, analyzing, and judging how I was showing up. I wanted to get all the answers “right” even when there was no perfect answer to be had.
It took me a few exercises, but each one was beneficial in reminding myself that our bodes are so intelligent. Our brains can get in the way, sometimes, but if we choose to keep coming back to breath and feeling the intuitive nature of those subtle signals our bodies give us, there is a lot of really valuable information to listen to there.
Again, everyone will have a different experience with the individual exercises and with the interactions with the horses, this was just my experience.
Who should try out a 1:1 Equine Guidance® session?
Equine Guidance® is a respected healing modality for those seeking personal development, clarity after trauma, and spiritual connectedness. Belle Shook, MC, NBCC, LPC, SEP, NARM, BCC, leads you through a 3-hour session with the horses using trauma-informed practices as you interact with the herd. No riding is involved. A 30-minute follow-up session is provided so that memories of healing feelings last and serve to benefit future well-being.
From firsthand experience, I can say that this session stuck with me. Looking back at the photos, I can almost transport myself back to the moments I spent with Salsa. He could have run anywhere he wanted, but we stayed together. No, he wasn’t ‘speaking’ to me, but I could feel his energy. It was pretty powerful. To get to stand next to such a gorgeous creature of this planet, who I knew was sensing how I was showing up, I couldn’t help but get wrapped up the beauty of the moment. We were both so present. While I don’t know what any other individual might experience here, I can’t imagine walking away feeling no effects from learning from these big, beautiful animals who are, in a lot of ways, much wiser than me.
One idea kept dancing across my mind every time I let my body do the talking: the power of peace. At one point as I was standing with Salsa, the horse who, as Belle described to me, was most sensitive to others’ nervous systems and could sense dissonance most acutely. We were facing the same direction, I had my hand on his side and could feel his body breathe. We stood that way for some time – it could have been two minutes, it could have been two hours – time didn’t really matter much. The overwhelming feeling I got was peace. Peace and presence. It was so powerful.
I know I’ll be projecting my human experience here, but I got this sense from Salsa, as if he was saying to me, “Isn’t this nice?” As if to say, “you should try it my way more often.”
A very human interpretation, I know, but one that I like. I’m so grateful to have been one with the herd for a morning and I’ll be taking that sense of peace with me, and holding it with me, as best I can as I keep living this human experience.
If you’re interested in learning more about booking a session with Belle and experiencing Equine Therapy Somatic Experiencing® around Sedona, Arizona, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.