Life Lessons from a Horse: Coping with Stress


We all experience times of increased stress in our lives. My horse recently got an injury, which started me reflecting on how I cope with stress in my life.

Initially, I went through a crisis phase, noticing my mind going blank and having difficulty making decisions. Then, I observed myself to minimize the situation. Followed by, a prolonged state of heightened stress resulting in actions of overcompensating to meet his needs, or at lease what I thought his needs were.

During these initial phases, I curiously observed him to make no progress in his healing. This got me to thinking, perhaps my lack of being present and overreacting was actually hindering his healing process?

With this reflection, I made a shift to being present emotionally and letting go of my human, goal-oriented expectations. Then came the prolonged phase of being patient, while providing the physical care he needed. The result? Increased progress in his healing.

This led to further reflection on how do we, humans, cope with stress? Although it can be healthy to experience brief periods of stress, prolonged and heightened stress can result in symptoms of anxiety. Furthermore, exposure to situations when our minds and bodies must determine if we are safe or not, can result in symptoms of trauma or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In this situation, my take away lesson from a horse was, perhaps others who are emotionally vulnerable, really just need us to be present, meet them where they are at, and be patient. This could possibly be the best medicine for their healing.

If you are experiencing stress personally or are caring for someone who needs you support, try slowing your mind down, just being present and addressing each need as it arises. Notice how these shifts impact your stress level and your relationships. Animals are incredible teachers of how to cope with stress. If you or a loved one would like to further explore tools for coping with stress, anxiety or trauma, perhaps a lesson from a horse would be beneficial. Please feel free to contact the Wish Fulfilling Tree to learn more animal-assisted therapy for children, teens, and families in Sonoma County.  

Shanti Hill-Gauer