Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Horses Help with Healing

Today's blog comes from Sarah Stevens, Director of Spirit and Soul Equine Assisted Therapy Centre CIC, who's giving us an insight into how horses can aid rebalancing and help coping with a cancer diagnosis.

In May 2016 I was diagnosed with stage 3 triple negative breast cancer. I was 27 at the time, have limited family history of cancer and was very healthy and active. I was very lucky that I found the lump early. I was never one of those people that checked themselves, so I’m very grateful that it was in an easy to feel place. After mammograms, they found another lump in my breast, and at that point things got a little more serious. Following discussions, the treatment plan was 8 rounds of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and then a bilateral oophorectomy. Alongside this I had fertility treatment and froze my eggs as I didn’t have children. 
I couldn’t really explain how it impacted me, as I seemed to just go into the mode of ‘let’s get on with it’. Everyone around me worried and panicked, and I just seemed to freeze. What a whirlwind really, happily going along with life; just bought my first house, had just secured a really good promotion, and then all change within the space of a day.
Whilst everyone around me was getting upset and emotional, I decided to go and sit in a barn with my horses, I spent a morning there as they just lay down with me. My 16hh horse had his head over my legs. They gave me the quiet time to be able to process this chaos I had just been plunged into.
 I started my treatment and along came all the side effects, and this is when I started to realise how fundamental my horses were in keeping me upbeat and happy through my journey. If you speak to anyone that knows me, they all say how well I dealt with it, I never once complained or moaned about it and I stuck to my routine as much as possible. My horses gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. They offered me an opportunity to be me still. This is something I found very powerful, as regardless of whether I had hair, breasts or felt ill, I was still me, and they treated me like I was. They were a place where I didn’t feel judged, or like everyone felt sorry for me (as I hated this). Then I started to realize that actually they were my therapy. They could immediately sense how I was feeling and they acted accordingly. If I was feeling stressed and angry they would put me in my place, if I was anxious they would push me, when I just needed peace that was my peace.
I started to explore what was out there for people using horses, and realised that horses can be used for therapy and learning. My background is working with people to help them facilitate change in their lives, so it made sense for me to help people using horses. I started to spend my time during chemotherapy, planning, training and starting this dream of mine, which would be to help people overcome obstacles in life using horses, especially those affected by cancer as this is close to my heart. I had seen the benefits if it personally, so asked myself ‘why can’t it work for others?’. I spent most of winter training the horses and ensuring they were safe to be working with people. A few days following my bilateral mastectomy, my organisation received its not for profit status, and a few weeks following my operation we moved to our amazing new countryside site in order to start work.
Helping other people overcome difficulties is so rewarding. One of my first cancer patients who I worked with was a 7 year old boy. Being able to offer him space to understand his emotions and his diagnosis was so fulfilling. My own experiences, although nothing in comparison to some, mean I can help and understand how people feel when faced with challenges. It also means that I don’t take a ‘softly-softly’ approach as I think people still need to be treated like people. What my journey and the journey of others has taught me is that most people’s underlying issues are the same, and when you take away the label (e.g. illness, disability, mental illness) people develop their core selves. This is equine assisted therapy is so effective, since horses don’t sense peoples ‘labels’, they sense the emotions and the feelings which deep down people need to work on. Horses act as a mirror to how we really feel. They are so incredibly sensitive and aware of how we are feeling and our intentions (sometimes more than we have recognized in ourselves), that they act as fantastic additional therapists. Horses allow us to uncover inner obstacles, explore these and the work on overcoming them.

What I’ve learnt from the last 18 months of my life:

  •       Life’s too short (cliché but true!), dare to dream, help others and enjoy life don’t waste any of it.
  •       Forget the word ‘ill’ or whatever label you have and work on being you.
  •       There is ALWAYS someone worse off than you. I was pretty lucky.
  •       Mind-set is everything, if you think you can cope and are fine you generally are. Don’t allow yourself to wallow in your own pity.
  •       Body parts are just body parts; you can lose a few and still function perfectly well.
  •       Be grateful for everything.
  •       Everyone needs horses in their lives!

Following my own journey and launching Spirit and Soul Equine Assisted Activity Centre CIC, we now work with a range of people, including people affected by cancer, offering equine assisted therapy to help them overcome challenges and obstacles in life.
If you would like to know more about any of the above, please feel free to contact the centre, who will be very happy to answer your questions.
They can be reached at 07837257813, or you can email them at info@spiritandsouleaac.co.uk. You can also find out more on their website.

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