As part of my usual coaching with clients, I had the client make contact, or connect by “Being” with the four horses. I often ask the client for their intuitive insights on the horses. I asked the client what she got, if anything from Shadow. She stated “Not much, he seems stand offish.” I gently asked if she ever feels that way. She replied yes that she did. I then asked her why the horse might appear to be stand offish. She answered quite quickly, “for self-protection.” The client was absolutely correct in her observation.
A Mustang is a wild roaming horse in a herd management area overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, a government agency. The BLM periodically rounds up the wild horses and removes some of the younger ones. From there they are placed in holding pens. Some of the once wild ones are placed up for adoption. Many are shipped across the border for slaughter.
Shadow was saddle trained and socialized through the Colorado Wild Horse Inmate Program (WHIP). The inmates gave him a job to do, so that he might have a better chance at adoption. If a wild horse is passed over three times in adoption opportunities, it is basically the three strike law. Three strikes and you are out. Shadow is typical of a small, 14 hand bay Mustang. Not flashy to look at. He does have a beautiful, glorious mane and tail. He can be ridden, but suffers extreme anxiety when taken away from his herd. That behavior is quite typical of a horse that depends on his herd for survival. Survival instincts are deeply ingrained in the DNA of wild horses.
We are Shadow’s third set of guardians. His name was already Shadow when he came to us. I thought of changing it to Brownie, hoping it would make him sweeter!Somewhere, his trust in humans was broken. Perhaps the very day he was taken out of the wild and from his herd and came to live in the world with humans who asked him to do what he could not quite comprehend.
In Gestalt Theory terms, the shadow side is what humans do to survive that they might not like about themselves. The shadow side is not looked at as the dark side, but a more neutral position. Perhaps more like poor coping choices. The Shadow Horse in our little herd portrays a profound role. People feel rejected by him. He causes clients to dig deep into their shadow part. It is often our background stuff that continues to show up in our current lives.
An early encounter with The Shadow Horse provoked my shadow. I approached him one day after spreading the hay out. I gently reached up to pat him on his shoulder and say good morning, a ritual I usually do every morning with the horses. Shadow is food aggressive. He pinned his ears and flung his head at me and nearly bit me. Out of reflex, I hit him hard in the shoulder with my balled up fist. I shouted at him that he should never do that again. Afterwards I felt guilty. I spent the next several weeks asserting myself and moving him off his hay, then allowing him to eat peaceably. Our ritual for the past four years almost every morning is for me to stroke his shoulder and tell him I love him. He has never tried to bite me again. We have come a long way. He still however, charges his herd mates, biting and kicking if they come too close when he eats. He acts very much a bully at times, likely from insecurity.
My horses work as a herd with clients. I never know when Shadow will show up- but he often does. He supports the work in incredible ways. I will never forget the client who was working on some deeply entrenched family issues. In the round pen first Shadow plodded behind her as she walked. Then she invited him to walk beside her- essentially inviting her Shadow side to walk with her. By the end of our work, I asked her to do an exercise. The client said no, and proceeded to do things her way. She turned around and walked backwards. As she walked backwards, Shadow placed his nose near her chest and walked with her. When she turned, she faced her shadow! They were no longer at odds. It was deeply integrative work. She faced her shadow that symbolically weighed about 900 pounds. She came to terms with why she made certain choices in life, the sacrifices she made due to her deeply entrenched beliefs regarding her family. She appeared to come to terms with her shadow side. She had chosen to do things her way. It was very evident to me, and I applauded her for doing things her way.
I had a client recently who refused to make friends with her shadow side, preferring the polarity, possibly wanting to annihilate her shadow side, as it had tried to do to her. I was ok with that, because that was truly where she was at in that given moment. Her shadow side had been quite troublesome. But I think she became much more aware of how she felt, and the possibilities and perceptions around that awareness. During her exploration, two of the horses, Shadow and Spirit kept pushing each other around. They pantomimed the same struggle going on within the client. Shadow shows up in coaching with the message to go deeper.
By the following day, I fully realized how my silly Shadow Horse reflects my shadow side back to me. He is a reminder. I understand why he is the way he is. I have chosen to love him anyway. I set clear boundaries with him. I am there for him when he is troubled. My life has also been deeply troubled. I have realized that it became part of me, and now I am able to use painful life experiences to assist others including having a deep understanding of The Shadow Horse. He plays a perfect role in this healing herd. We support him as he struggles to find his own light. He has a good heart. His fighting spirit has helped him to survive.
I do not know if the Shadow Horse will ever come to truly trust me, or ever see his incredible work as anything more than that- just work. I have come to understand what a gift he bestows on me and others, when he does connect, when he offers a little affection, when he allows me to halter him without running off. Shadow has some stomach issues as he holds things inside as do I. He had an eye infection at the same time I was having issues with my third eye also known as intuition. For two weeks I had to catch a resistive horse and apply ointment to his eye. What fun struggling with 900 pounds of resistance! The Vet had to come out a second time and clean and drain the long tube from his eye duct down the length of his nose. Sedation required! But after all that, the Vet even noticed how compliant Shadow got with daily handling. The don’t mess with my head horse now enjoys gentle stroking of his face. How odd that whatever was messing with my head and blocking my intuition also cleared up over time. Last summer, when we had to release our beautiful horse Firefly from the physical realm, Shadow called and screamed all afternoon. I could not release the grief from my heart, but every shriek he made cut me to the core. I finally went outside and had a very stern talk with him and asked him to stop because it was upsetting me so much. After the stern talk, I became aware that he was doing exactly as I felt and that I was too reserved to show it. So I then told him to go ahead and scream, because it was exactly how I felt!
I honor the Shadow Horse. He reflects back to me that which I want hidden. Yet when those things are exposed, it provides a greater opportunity for the light to shine. Perhaps the lesson is that one must learn to love the shadow as well as the light.