A Reluctant Equine Participant – Guest Post by Lindsay Williams

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For quite some months, Tiffany Ashenfelter invited, encouraged and nearly insisted I come to the ranch and learn more about her work doing equine therapy. Though I love animals, and have two cats and a dog at home, I had never been around horses and my eagerness to take her up on this offer was minimal. I kept finding excuses, primarily that I was in my mid-30s and since I hadn’t been near a horse yet, I thought I was past my prime. Simply put, I wasn’t too interested. Even amid hearing the amazing work our shared clients were achieving in equine therapy, I was just fine supporting without first hand experience.

After delaying the inevitable and turning down my talented colleague in the past, my husband and I finally agreed to help Tiffany and her husband Michael with some equine therapy promo material. We arrived on a lovely Saturday evening. I was fully intending on being the helpful coworker who would lend a hand for some photos, but not really engaging in any sort of “real” equine therapy. As we greeted others and began to discuss the evening plans, the idea of having the Ashenfelter’s and their equine team walk us through the typical therapeutic activities was brought up. Everyone agreed this was a grand idea.

I wasn’t so sure because I didn’t really want to do equine therapy.

I didn’t need to build a relationship with my horse. All I was aiming for was keeping my boots clean, my arms looking slender, and my hair photo-worthy amid the Texas humidity. But, approach and bridle a horse. Walk with him or her. Get the horse to trust you. This all sounded a little intimidating and not quite what I had agreed to.

After acknowledging I was a bit anxious and discussing with the other attendees my lack of any sort of history with horses, I was attended to by the team. I was reassured and immediately felt at ease that they were for me and my success and ready to help empower me in the equine therapy work. Soon, we were assigned a horse to approach and connect with. I was given the smallest little guy, Jessie, and I was perfectly happy with it. “It’s just a big dog,” I repeatedly told myself.

I entered Jessie’s space and he allowed me to bridle him before I led him as directed by the therapy team. I spent time petting his mane and back, learning about how his response to me was reflective of my own experience. Jessie and I worked together, alongside my husband and his horse in an easy and comfortable manner. We bonded more than I ever imagined I could with an animal in such a short time. I was surprised at how I felt connected to and protective of “my” horse when we were asked to change horses and work with a new therapeutic equine partner.

As I reflected on why equine therapy went from something I was uninterested in to something I found calming, connecting and insightful, I thought of the relationship with the horse. I went into the experience somewhat anxious and hesitant, and yet while acknowledging those feelings, I acted on my value for relationship. I recognized that amid my uncomfortable feelings, I calmly welcomed the relationship, because it was just that, a relationship.

And relationships are where we learn about ourselves.

My equine therapy experience reminded me I could connect based on the way that I chose to show up, not how my fears enticed me to avoid. The horses were open to me if I was willing to approach them in a safe and unassuming manner. The work provided insights into my personal agency in interactions, awareness of how my feelings sometimes lie to me, and personal satisfaction from acting on my values. And the best is that I was with my husband and all this could easily translate into our marriage relationship.

I would have never guessed all this could come from a few hours with a horse and team of wonderful folks guiding our work together. Equine therapy and working with the Ashenfelter’s was a gift to me as both a colleague and clinician. If you are at all interested in how this work might help you or a client you have, especially if you work with couples, I can’t recommend it enough.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

Lindsay Williams is an individual therapist for adolescents and adults at Restoration Counseling in Dallas. By encouraging value driven actions within a safe and confidential relationship, her clients gain self worth and personal empowerment.

Lindsay uses DBT skills and practices alongside professional experience with complex family systems, substance use, depression, anxiety, and divorce.

Reality Check: A Way to Test Your Anxious Thoughts

Anxious Thoughts“How we see it is how it will be.” (Anonymous)
We most often suffer more from what we FEAR than what actually HAPPENS, so it’s important for you to learn how to evaluate what you are thinking. Things always look less fearful when we face them head on vs. running or distracting ourselves into TV, alcohol, food, or work.
Spend some time in your journal with your anxious thoughts, asking yourself these questions:* Continue reading

The Intentional Yes – A Way to Simplify Your Holiday

While most of us can boast of very busy schedules year round, the holiday season is even worse.  There are pressures coming from all sides, end of the year deadlines at work, holiday parties, the pressure to find the perfect gift for everyone in your life, family obligations, traffic…the list could go on and on.

Rather than putting our heads down this holiday season and plowing through it let’s try something different.  Let’s slow it down, let’s take some time to enjoy it, revel in it and actually be merry!

How do we do this? Continue reading

Creating an Upward Spiral

We’re all familiar with the idea of the downward spiral, right?  Where one bad choice can lead to another which can lead to another which leads to another and so on…but did you know the opposite is also true?  Good choices can lead to more good choices which lead to more that lead to more and more and so on.  We call that positive momentum an upward spiral.  It’s a positive impact on our heart and mind, a collection of successes and positive choices we have made along the way.

creating an upward spiralLet’s look at a few simple strategies you can take to begin your upward spiral! Continue reading

Inner Peace: A Natural Face Lift

“Soften your eyes. Relax your face,” I instruct my clients when we are working on deep relaxation in session. And the change is immediate and visible as the lines of tension fall away and a peaceful expression steals over them. When conducting this exercise with a roomful of people, the whole mood of the group changes. You can almost see everyone’s blood pressure go down! For you see, no matter how skillful the face lift, how costly the wrinkle cream, nothing can erase the look of stress, anger, sadness or chronic anxiety from a face when the soul inside is tense and troubled.  Inner peace is like a natural face lift. Continue reading

Gru, Minions & Anxiety

The above video clip is one that far too many of us can relate to. You know that feeling when you’d rather blow torch a phone than make a phone call… Or you’d rather go shopping for hours on end than face the fact that your in-laws are coming in town.  Maybe it is fear of allowing your little one to spend the night with a friend that causes you to become that parent who will lie and say “little Johnny is too scared to spend the night,” all while little Johnny is in the background begging you to let him go.

There is a certain level of anxiety that is actually healthy and normal.  Anxiety that prompts you to prepare a speech before standing in front of a crowd is likely to prevent you from total embarrassment. Anxiety about a job interview, which prompts you to dress in more than a t-shirt and shorts is more likely to propel you toward employment.  However, when our anxiety becomes so intense that we are unable to give the speech, or we bomb every interview we attend (or better yet, bail before we even get to the interview) then there is likely a more significant problem at play.

In order to adequately talk about anxiety we have to differentiate anxiety and fear because often, these words are used interchangeably, but the reality is – they aren’t interchangeable.

Fear is the feeling that you get in the middle of a crisis, when you are faced with something real and tangible.

Anxiety is the feeling that arises when we begin to think of and fear things that may or may not ever happen. 

Anxiety is an elusive emotion that can quickly go from a normal level to spiraling out of control, as seen in our video clip.  Most of us experience a little anxiety when calling someone for a first date, but in the clip Gru’s anxiety went to such an extreme that he not only melted a phone, but it resulted in thousands of dollars’ worth of fire and water damage, and worse, hurt the feelings of some of his minion friends.  Unfortunately, our own anxiety when left unaddressed has the capacity to do the same.

Anxiety disorders are the most common disorders in the U.S. with an estimated 41 million people struggling.  In addition to being incredibly common on their own, anxiety disorders are also seen as underlying issues which often trigger bigger problems such as addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders, and major depression.  Anxiety disorders are, however, very treatable.

If you struggle with anxiety, here are a few tips to help you get on the right track.  The first step is to get to a place where you feel safe both physically and emotionally.  Here are some ideas:

  • Take slow deep breaths – counting to 5 as you breathe in and again as you breathe out
  • Go for a short walk – even if just to the next room or down the hall at work, often changing your physical location can be very helpful
  • Practice self-care – a bike ride, a walk in the park, a hot shower, read a book, enjoy a cup of coffee, go shopping, enjoy a cookie, call a friend, get a pedicure, or play a video game.

** It is important to note here that self-care will look different for everyone and you have to find what is safe for you.  If you struggle with an eating disorder then a cookie is not a form of self-care, or if you struggle with shopping / overspending, then a trip to the mall is not a healthy or safe form of self-care.

Once you have gotten into a safe space, then it is vitally important that you track down the root of your anxiety. What triggered you?  What can you do to handle that differently in the future, or to avoid a triggering situation?  Identifying the root causes and how to deal with them can be very challenging!  Often finding a close friend, or a therapist, to help you through this process is a necessity to true recovery.

Anxiety is the most common mental health diagnosis in the country, but only 1/3 of those struggling get treatment – the sad fact about this… Anxiety is a very treatable struggle.  You don’t have to struggle forever, and you certainly don’t have to do it alone.

If you think you or someone you love may struggle with anxiety, check out our Anxiety Test for a look at some very common symptoms.

Jennifer Smith, M.A., LPC-Intern
Supervised by: Tiffany Ashenfelter, M.A., LPC-S