Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I'm Not Feeling Like Myself. Guess I'll Go Talk To My...HORSE???

"There is something about the outside of a horse that's good for the inside of a man."
                 ~Winston Churchill

Yesterday the kids and I had a little family time and did something that most people have probably not even heard of.

We received grief therapy.  From a horse.

Well, not directly from a horse.  He didn’t have his diploma framed and mounted in the barn or an overstuffed couch right next to the trough.  He wasn’t like Mr. Ed with a PhD.  He required a little assistance from his buddy, Michael Dawson, a licensed grief therapist here in Colorado.  Michael has been using horses in his therapy for both children and adults for the past 10 years through his organization the Philippi Center.

I heard from Michael a couple of weeks ago after I sent him a letter, informing him that his organization was on the resources list for www.theWiddahood.com.  He sent me an email, asking if I would be willing to come in and talk to him a little bit about what he does.

I felt an instant connection with Michael who admitted that he had never lost a spouse, but agreed with my theory that loss is really losing the life you thought you were going to have...which can mean many things to many people.  He explained to me that he understood that because he has a daughter who is physically limited in ways that most people aren’t. 

And he found a new way to connect with her.  Through horses.

We sat and talked for almost 2 hours about what he does, but that wasn’t enough for me.  I wanted to see it and experience for myself what it was like to have an unbiased and understanding horse, listen to me and take some of my problems away.  Since my kids are on Spring Break this week and I was so anxious to meet with Michael, I asked if my kids could come along as well.  He immediately agreed, telling me that he would structure a demonstration based around my family.

My kids were so excited when I told them we were going to spend the afternoon on a farm.  I told them, “We’re going to go talk to some horses about Daddy.”

Now, most people would give you a strange look if you announced that was going to be their Monday afternoon activity.  But my kids nodded like that was the most normal thing in the world.

Michael started us off slowly, in a room, sitting around in a circle saying our names, ages, and the special person who died.  Of course, since it was just my family, we all know these things about each other, but I had forgotten how powerful it can be just to say these basics out loud.

We then moved out to the ring and met Jazz and Charlie.  Michael seemed to know these horses completely, like they were old friends.

“Now, Charlie’s a worrier,” he said.  “Jazz is more easy-going.  But everyone responds differently to different personalities.”

Boy...you got that right.

We completed different exercises...some talking about feelings, some problem-solving with the horses (how DO you get a horse from point A to point B?).  With the quiet distraction of the horses, we talked about feelings that we have, some good and some bad, and at the end of our short session, we got out the brushes and started grooming the horses.

Now, I’m not a horse person, so I’ve never done this before.  But I hope it’s not the last time I do it.  It’s almost hypnotic and one of the most calming things I’ve ever done. 

“I once had a woman grooming the horse and start talking about her loss,” Michael said.  “By the end of the session, she didn’t even remember all that she had said.”

I can see how that might happen.

And as my oldest daughter and I gently brushed the horse together and talked to Michael about my husband, I could tell that Jazz was feeling it too. 

Because he almost fell asleep.

This was such an amazing and almost spiritual experience...I just can’t keep it to myself.  As we worked through the activities, I talked to Michael about how he would feel if I asked other widows if they could join us for a weekend of Horses Healing Grief this summer.

And he agreed.

In the next week, Michael and I are going to talk about dates for making this happen.  Depending on the interest, we are hoping that we can break this up into 2 different sessions:  One for widow(er)s and one for widow(er)s and their families, for those people who would like to participate with their children and make it a family weekend. 

During the family weekend, activities will be broken out so that widow(er)s will work together...and the kids will be in a separate group.  This gives the widow(er)s a chance to connect with each other (something that we all desperately need) and an opportunity for the kids to talk and chase that word “normal” once again.

I know that many of you have emailed me with your interest in a Widow’s Retreat weekend this summer as well.  And that’s still going to happen.  What we are talking about are three different weekends for you to choose from, depending on where your interest is.  And in the next week, I will be letting you know about the details of all of these weekends, hopefully giving you time to make your summer plans.

We’ve talked about this before...help in widowhood seems to come from unexpected places.  Friends we’ve never considered “close” before have become the people we lean on the most.  Activities that never interested us before become something we look forward to.  And in trying to find anything that might help us fight the Grief Monster, we sometimes have to look in unexpected places.

But I will admit:  I never thought I’d find help, healing, and renewal in a barn.

For more information about this series of Widow’s Retreats, please email catherine@thewiddahood.com  Our goal is to keep these groups small so that we can truly connect, but we will do our best to accommodate all of those who are interested.

For more blogs and articles from other widow(er) writers, join us at www.theWiddahood.com!  

© Catherine Tidd 2011


  1. I think that experience would be amazing.. I have never had a horse, but I hear they are very therapeutic but I love horseback riding and love horses.

  2. It was really something else! I have never considered myself a horse person, but I love types of therapy that make you heal...without even realizing that you're doing it!!

  3. Wow!! Awesome!! Sounds wonderful for widows and for widowed families. My kids would love it... I'm sold!! TanyaZ

  4. My husband and I lived on a farm when he died. Everything about the farm is theraputic. I would come home from work, feed and water the animals. Visit with them and our neighbors horses. Nothing relaxed me more and I have not been that relaxed since Ed's death. I miss that feeling of connecting with animals. Great farm he has and great idea.

  5. That sounds fantastic! Such a great idea!

    My aunt takes in children who are having problems at home until Child Services feels it's time for the child to go back; the newest little girl she took in barely spoke because her family didn't allow her to, and when she got mad she growled like a dog instead of using words (it's terribly sad, but the story gets happier!). She started bringing the little girl to a farm to take care of and ride horses once a week, and it's been so therapeutic for her. She's now speaking and laughing and enjoying her life. Horses can definitely help in so many ways!

  6. Isn't that amazing?? Wish I had known about this years ago! You just never know where you can find help. We have a great facility close by for kids with disabilities, but I had never heard of anything that specifically dealt with grief therapy. It will be interesting to see what happens with a larger group.