Healing Horses Help Women with Breast Cancer
by Sandra Tonn
Source: Health Action, Fall 2010
Breast cancer is routinely associated with thoughts of dying, radiation, chemotherapy, pain and loss. Thanks to the therapeutic wisdom of horses and intuitive coaching, however, some women associate it with discovery, learning, love, vulnerability, trust, understanding and healing.
Heather, who is experiencing breast cancer for the second time, says she is extremely thankful for the time she has spent with Master Coach Linda-Ann Bowling and her horses. "As I journey through my cancer treatments not a day goes by that I'm not reminded of my experience," she says.
Bowling remembers the session as well. "It was an absolutely beautiful session," she says. Heather, who is in her late 30s, came to Bowling with an issue about asking for help. When Bowling brought Heather into the space of the horses, something incredible happened.
"Each horse, one after the other, came into the arena and rolled between us," Bowling recalls. "For a horse to feel safe enough to lay down and roll in front of people is very unusual," she adds.
Heather, too, recognized the trust and vulnerability that the horses had exposed to her in those moments. She realized that she felt her cancer should be handled on her own and feared that people would pity her if she let them in.
After her time with Bowling and the horses, Heather says, "The two main learnings that have begun to change my life are being truly myself in my pasture and to learn to let go of all the fears that I've been holding on to deep down inside me."
With Bowling's guidance and the lessons from her horses, she adds, "I'm at the point where I'm able to see and embrace my naked/real self. I see that all is well... [I'm] not sure what's next and that's okay."
As Heather's experience demonstrates, healing with horses may or may not involve riding them. Bowling, the founder and facilitator of Unbridling Human Potential in Langley, BC, partners with her horses in many ways to empower women from the inside out. "We believe horses are real, sentient beings. They feel emotion--theirs and those around them," she explains.
Bowling also explains that horses have an amazing ability to sense things around them that are unsafe, perhaps due to the fact that traditionally they were an animal of prey. "When a horse senses incongruence in a person, it will try to help," she says.
For example, a person may say they are fine and act as if they are fine, but inside they are in pain. A horse will find a way to show that person their pain and safely allow them to expose it. "Often the person will begin to cry and it's only then that the horse will relax because the person now matches inside and out, which to the horse is congruent and therefore safe."
Women from all walks of life, not just those with breast cancer, come to Bowling and her herd of horses, and each experiences themselves in a new way. Leadership skills, boundary issues, empowerment, investigation for authentic self and emotional well-being are just some of the many applications for this therapy.
Many describe their experience as feeling exposed and safe at the same time, being stripped to the soul or having felt the horse look inside them. Riding a horse is not only relaxing, but research also shows it creates "limbic resonance," which is the enhancement of communication between the brain and heart.
A group or private session with Bowling and her herd may result in a loving nudge by a horse at the site of a cancer tumour or injury; a horse's head in one's lap; a deep, heartfelt exchange between woman and horse with eyes locked in communication; or any other number of imaginable and unimaginable outcomes.
"The horses are not trained," Bowling says, "They are naturally this way." Every session is different. Often the clients who come don't even know what they want to work on or what release or learning opportunity the horses will create for them. But in the end, when a woman is conscious and aware of her emotions, this creates safety for the horse and growth and healing for the woman.
Bowling says she feels very passionate about this calling. "Coming full circle with these animals called horses, I am brought back to myself so many times," says Bowling, who survived a childhood of extreme neglect and abuse and originally discovered the wisdom of horses through her own healing journey.
"Witnessing incredible miracles of healing--of unhorse-like behaviour that sounds like it comes from fairy tales--I feel complete when in the presence of my herd. Together we have built bridges to the human soul. We have opened the hearts of hundreds of people, mostly women," she says in her humble, grounded and respectful way.
In relation to women with breast cancer, Bowling's goal and sincere hope is to partner with agencies that will refer women to her, just as they refer women to massage therapy or yoga, so that they have the amazing opportunity to work with horses for help navigating the ups and downs through their emotional healing journey.
Bowling's program, designed for anyone healing from any kind of cancer, is called Hoof Beats Back to Power...Let the Healing Continue. "It's an opportunity for the women to feel incredibly loved with an animal that understands the emotional and physical pain that they have," she says.
As Heather moves through her journey, she's incorporating the heartfelt lessons she took away from her time with Bowling and the horses. She says, "I have begun to invite the people that I love into my life (my pasture) and to share this journey with me. Their love and care is incredible and its meaning is far beyond words."
Founder and facilitator of the Hoof Beats Back to Power program, Linda-Ann Bowling is a Master Intuitive and Empathic Healing Coach who partners with her herd of horses to promote emotional wellness. www.unbridling yourbrilliance.com (604) 626-4806
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