A Horse is Never “Just a Horse”

 Weekly Writing Challenge: Student, Teacher


Bear Boy



As a writer I know I share at least one thing in common with anyone who puts pen to paper or finger tips to keyboard ~ we want to move people in some way.

Move them to think; to act; to change; to believe; to hope; to aspire; to learn; to grow.

Perhaps there are some with other more nefarious objectives but my goal, particularly with this blog, has always been to inspire, and perhaps teach, through the way of the horse … okay, my horse.

The lessons I’ve learned in the past eight years with this incredible equine companion have altered me in so many amazing ways I cannot even begin to number them.

Bear is among the kindest of souls and endears, with his gentle and comic personality, all who meet him.

Perhaps the most important lesson he has taught me (so far) is the importance of self-awareness; to be in the moment. To wrap myself in the now and be fully present in every experience, even the ones I don’t enjoy so much.

As one who has lived most of my life in a disassociated state this has been, as you might imagine, a most valuable and, at times, uncomfortable, lesson. A lesson I have explored both on the ground and in the saddle and thoroughly reviewed and attempted to integrate every week, for the past five years, in the therapist’s chair.

Reclaiming Self is a serious business.

When I go to the barn and look in Bear’s big baby browns, and he curls his lip in greeting and nickers for his carrots, I feel invited into, and an important part of, his world.

Being disassociated means not feeling safe, never mind special, in anyone’s world, not even your own. The only way to survive is to create distance; to be there, but not be there. To trust no one, often not even yourself. The flight/fright hormone is engaged all the time.

Horses will not tolerate this dysfunction in anyone since it triggers their own primal instincts to flee, i.e  disassociate. It’s why horses are wonderful mirrors during the healing process. It is possible to know almost immediately how well you are doing by the response of the horse sharing your space ~ that is as long as you are aware of the impact you’re having on them in that moment.

I’ve been around horses most of my life but Bear is the one who has shown me who I am and helped me recover my life.

He’s been the equine therapist and a valuable teacher to this soul long lost, and I am blessed.

Equine-assisted therapy has, in recent years, become widely accepted as a recognized healing practice

My introduction to equine-assisted therapy came in 2006 at an Equine-Assisted Personal Development workshop with noted Canadian horse trainer, Chris Irwin. During the four-day closed session 10 of us participated in a variety of exercises designed to promote self-awareness ~ the horses engaged as remarkable catalysts for personal growth and learning. All exercises took place on the ground and within the safety of the round pen. To interact with the horse in this new way changed my life. It was the true beginning of my journey to healing and it made my interactions with Bear, who was new to me at the time, all the more meaningful.

I’ve also had the privilege of attending a workshop conducted by Linda Kohanov ~ internationally-recognized as the innovator of Equine Experiential Learning and author of four powerful books on the journey of healing with horses ~ “Riding Between the Worlds,” “The Tao of Equus,” “Way of the Horse” and “The Power of the Herd.”

Both Chris and Linda have been developing global networks of qualified equine-assisted personal development/therapy practitioners. Naturally, I cannot recommend one over another, but if you are interested in exploring equine-assisted therapy as a healing option or you have a background with horses or in psychotherapy and would like to familiarize yourself with this work I recommend a visit to their websites to get started.

Certainly there are other practitioners in the emerging field of therapeutic healing with horses. Many programs are adapted to provide specialized leadership training, while others are tailored to help troubled youth and prison inmates, and still others are designed to address issues of abuse. For many years special “riding for the disabled programs” have been integral to helping the physically-challenged gain a sense and awareness of their own bodies in a way that conventional physical therapy cannot.

Dorothy and BearOver the years horses have evolved from farm and war machines to recreational and healing partners. All the better for them ~ and us ~ as long as we proceed with awareness and don’t abuse this privilege.

I’m presently contemplating taking my journey of awareness to the next level by working with a qualified equine therapy practitioner in my area to address some lingering post-traumatic stress issues. This came at the recommendation of my new GP who practices Integrative Medicine. I just about fell out of my chair when she suggested, during our first meeting last fall, that I explore this healing option.

Life is an ongoing journey and for years I believed my survival depended on me going it alone.

The horse ~ my horse ~ and the amazing people drawn into my life because of him, have taught me to believe otherwise.

A horse is never “just a horse.”


If you’re interested in learning more about the magic of healing with horses, check out the links below and other resources on the internet.

Further Resources

Horse Therapy Helps People Surmount Personal Obstacles (Toronto Star)


National Association for Equine Facilitated Wellness (Canada)

PATH International

FEEL Alumni




And now for something completely different …


onelovelyblogawardMy thanks to Ivy of Ivy_Mosquito|Love is free for nominating “Musings of a Horse Mom” for the One Lovely Blog Award. Ivy is a more recent follower of my horse mom musings and I’m touched that she has been so quick to pin a  ribbon to my wall. Thank you, Ivy.

Seven things you won’t know about me (and Bear):

  1. Bear receives a lavender aromatherapy facial massage at the end of every grooming session. Yeah, okay, I spoil him rotten. The fact is it’s a habit I started the first day he became mine. I wanted him always to be able to associate me with a pleasant experience, no matter what. He really enjoys it. 😉
  2. Bear’s bridle and dressage saddle are both Canadian-made by master craftsman Martin York of York Saddlery and Harness. I can highly recommend his incredible work.
  3. I’m OCD about Bear’s polo bandages and my shirt matching or at least complimenting each other. Coordination is king!
  4. Bear’s bit is a Herm Sprenger KK Ultra Loose Ring Snaffle. I’ve used nothing else and he loves chewing on it.
  5. Bear has no vices … okay, he may enjoy his carrots just a little too much. 😉
  6. I always wear a helmet when I ride. My preferred brand is Charles Owen.
  7. Hat hair is the bane of my existence, but I’d rather be safe than sport the perfect coif. 😉

Here are seven lovely blogs I nominate for the One Lovely Blog award.

 Apronhead Lilly

Living Soulful

Building a Life of Hope

Capital Cowgirl

Crazy Train to Tinky Town

Horse Listening

Virginia Views

Thank you to all who follow and “like” this blog. It means a lot to me that I can touch souls through my musings about life with my horse and beyond.

Nurture what you love and enjoy the ride!

Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014






35 thoughts on “A Horse is Never “Just a Horse”

  1. Woooow, amazing post, as usual. It does not matter to me if I just started to engage in your writing, I know (now) what moves me and what speaks to me 😉
    I have bookmarked your post because of all usefull info about therapy and horses training. 🙂

  2. Love that noble creature. Inspires me to weed my garden, purify my heart, to weather his gaze. And then there are those smart alek horses that I think I told you about before on one of my running routes. I swear they’re telling jokes about my pace, and saying horse words I won’t repeat here. (0:

  3. I couldn’t agree more on the therapeutic benefits of being around horses. Your Bear and my Finlay are one in the same, my healing journey began over three years ago. We have many years of learning ahead. very much enjoyed reading your post. 🙂

  4. Your relationship with Bear is so touching and now you may be taking it all a step further. I am delighted for you both and wish you well on your journey to healing. I know how special Bear must be since I love him even across cyberspace. P.S. And Congratulations on your One Lovely Blog award. Well deserved!

  5. Beautiful piece of writing. I know little of horses, but I do know that animals can sense our moods and distress and provide comfort when we need it. They say people with animals are calmer and have a more positive outlook to life. We have always had cats – and just having the big ginger tabby curled on your knee softly purring really helps you relax. Good luck to you both – I really enjoy reading your blog.

    • Thank you. … From my experience too I see that animals do discern and respond to our moods. They are sensitive, sentient beings and excellent judges of character. I also have a couple of cats and two collies and I could not imagine my life without the kind of comfort and joy these amazing companions bring into my life. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your lovely comment. Nurture what you love … Dorothy 🙂

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  8. A lovely and thought-provoking piece of writing. I am surrounded by horses and horse people in my little neck of the woods and know that they are a source of tremendous joy. And evidently comfort. Enjoyed this post very much.

  9. Wonderfully written and after living 25 years “Being disassociated or not feeling safe, never mind special, in anyone’s world, not even your own.” This is so very true and without a therapist to tell me, as you had. I could not articulate it so well. Thank you Dorothy! “The only way to survive is to create distance; to be there, but not be there. To trust no one, often not even yourself. The flight/fright hormone is engaged all the time.”

    I am learning to put this slowly behind me. A carrot to BEAR too.!

    • Thank you. I’m so glad my words spoke to you. I wish you well on your journey to wholeness and will give Bear a carrot and a hug from you. He’ll like that. Be well, Dorothy 🙂

  10. This is so great, Dorothy. I read Linda’s “Tao of Equus” around the time it came out and was inspired to pursue that path as a career. I grew up passionate about horses and fascinated by psychology and it seemed like the perfect fit. It took me a few years of beating around the bush, but I finally gathered up the courage and enrolled in school to get my psychology degree. I had even started researching my equine therapy training options. …And then I had a stroke which darn near killed me the week I was to start back to school.

    That was almost 6 years ago.

    I actually have tears in my eyes because I just now realized as I read this post that I completely forgot about my dream since having the stroke! Literally gone from my awareness – talk about disassociated! Or just brain damage? I don’t know, but it’s shocking to me in either case. I think I need to go process now. I cannot believe that I could forget this dream…

    Thank you for giving me back one more piece of the ME puzzle that I lost when I had the stroke. I don’t know that I’m up for the challenge of getting my degree at this point, but I bet I can find something to do with horses and helping people…

    • Dear Christin …

      Your comment was the first thing I read when I awoke this morning. I am moved beyond words by what you have shared with me.

      In some ways my path has been similar to yours, as I have come full circle to a place I thought I was almost 10 years ago. This I will touch on in my next post as I have just made a decision that is bound to change my life in beautiful, profound and enduring ways.

      I don’t know where you live, of course, but I’m sure if you go to Linda Kohanov’s website she will have resources to which you can turn as you explore this next leg of your journey. Perhaps there is someone in your area who can show you the way to your desired, but seemingly forgotten, career path.

      Based on my own experience, I believe that your dream was simply put on hold while you worked out a few kinks in your life.

      It is said that “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans,” and this has certainly been my experience. It is possible that what you have learned about yourself over the past several years since your stroke has prepared you to take the next step, and if that is to heal with horses ~ for yourself and for you then to turn that around and help others ~ then how blessed you are! For that is my journey now and something upon which I will expand in my next blog post.

      All my best to you, and if I can help you find your way somehow or offer moral support, please just let me know.

      Be well and nurture what you love,


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  12. Well said!I stumbled in here by chance – love your writing. Our love for the horse – an embarrassing infatuation for us who still feel like a 10 year old around them sometimes – you’ve summed it up well 🙂

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