Davonna shares her story of Primer, PJ and McKenna.
How could I choose just one? I’m blessed to have access to multiple “therapy” horses. I experience panic attacks — the result of a long, bad marriage that ended violently. Sometimes, I’ll go months without an attack; sometimes, they come in waves for days on end. In an effort to help me help myself, my boyfriend encouraged me to return to horses, an activity I had enjoyed throughout my childhood. Soon enough, I was the owner of a retired school horse, Primer. Primer is losing vision in his left eye and is a skittish but affectionate horse. My enthusiasm and joy encouraged my boyfriend to join me in the hobby and he, too, acquired a horse — a sturdy, laid-back and supremely confident trail boss named PJ.
The barn has become my safe place. The horses know when an attack is imminent. As soon as I start to “go under,” Primer turns up the interaction, nuzzling me, lipping me, and pushing me until the panic releases me. When it’s over, he’ll take a deep breath, snort, and present his muzzle for a kiss — our special greeting. When PJ senses an attack, he pulls me into his shoulder, wrapping his body around mine and shielding me from the rest of the world.
Most recently, a new equine friend proved he was equally astute. During the barn holiday party, while visiting with other boarders, I could feel my breathing begin to change, becoming more rapid. I tried to extricate myself from the group of people but, with my back against a stall wall, I was surrounded. McKenna, the stall’s occupant and known to give hugs to his humans, stuck his huge heavy head through his window and put it on my shoulder. He pulled me back against the wall and held me there. He nuzzled my ear and hair. I tried to pull away from him, still plunging toward a full attack. He reached out and pulled me back again, this time draping his head far enough over my shoulder I couldn’t see the crowd. My breathing was still too rapid and shallow. He hugged me tighter then nipped my tummy. The pain startled me and changed my breathing enough to forestall the attack and let me slip into Primer’s stall, next to McKenna’s. Primer lipped at my hands and played with my hair. I put my face into his barrel and breathed. He turned to watch the crowd; McKenna watched me. I breathed in the smell of horse and hay and the sounds of the crowd faded. Hours passed in the space of seconds and the attack ended. I scratched Primer’s withers and murmured a thank you. He stepped away from the door and looked at me, ears pricked, then presented his muzzle for a kiss.
Primer and PJ – and now McKenna – are my anchors. They are instrumental in keeping me grounded and feeling safe. Their empathy and quiet presence are an oasis in days marked by anxiety.
Here at Horse Nation, we believe that the best therapists are our own horses. We love sharing the stories of special equines and the lessons horses have taught us — email yours to [email protected] to be featured in an upcoming edition of Back on Track “Horse Therapy.” Go Back on Track, and Go Riding!