Free Rein – How a horse helped heal my anxiety

I didn’t expect to actually get coached by the horse.

How a horse helped heal my grief and lift a layer of anxiety that was weighing on me.

Heartbreak and anxiety

Heartbreakingly, I have very recently given away a very beautiful 9mth old Labrador puppy due to a rapid increase in my anxiety levels. She and I just weren’t compatible. She wanted to be close to me ALL THE TIME, so close in fact that she required a part of my body or my clothing in her mouth most of the time. My hands had begun to ache and my clothes were looking shabby. I wanted a dog that would sit calmly by me and look adoringly into my eyes.

Reality meant I was spending large parts of my day replacing various parts of my body with chew toys or stressing about what she would destroy next. Amazingly she was only ever like this around me, other members of my family just didn’t have the same experience of her at all, as I said we were just not good together. Proving once again you can love someone with all your heart and still not be suitable life partners.

Psychologically I had been battling with anxiety and stress and I was quickly losing my ability to think on my feet, focus on important business and I was quickly forgetting how to actually relax. I was feeling the decline in my health and wellbeing at a rapid rate. The choice had to be made; it was me or the dog.

Owning my feelings and emotions

I now have such mixed emotions, guilt combined with an incredible relief that I don’t have to be on guard constantly. Embarrassment and failure in the eyes of my family, friends, colleagues and my entire social network with whom I have continuiously shared her growth and crazy antics.

I’m still jumping unnecessarily though, half expecting her to be there next to me. I’m still awaiting the destruction or the attention seeking behaviour of this insecure pup.

As I stand and listen to Cindy, founder of Free Rein Australia at an International Coaching Week event hosted by International Coach Federation Australasia’s – Victorian Branch, my gut is tight and I am quietly thinking to myself that I just don’t know how I am going to cope interacting with a big animal like a horse. That perhaps I won’t be able to be comfortable in the presence of such a powerful animal. More than anything I fear that I might crack in front of my peers. I have spent weeks feeling guilty about pushing the puppy away and here I am about to let a 300 kg animal stand over me, I am so jumpy and edgy I can barely stand still.

Cindy is telling the group that the horses aren’t interested in anything inauthentic, that their body language will reflect what they see in us, they will move away or disengage if they sense that we are not physically and emotionally aligned. That is, they will know, if our thoughts are not matching our body language. They will likely be unsettled by negative energy and our fears will have them on edge and not wanting to connect with us. Cindy may be saying a heap of positive stuff, but this is all I am present to right now. How am I going to get a horse to like me? I am after all extremely uncomfortable and … I reject animals.

Thoughts and increasing anxiety

I’m thinking that I might get caught out trying to be all positive, when I am really just putting on a brave mask trying to cover up all that residual anxiety I’m still holding onto. I do a little scan of my body, noting the tight shoulders that are pretending to be earrings, (another interesting fashion choice) and the clenched fists rammed into my pockets. I know I am gritting my teeth I’ve been doing that for weeks, the pain referring down my neck and arm and the right side of my body, effecting my sciatic nerve and hip function. I know I’m tense, there is going to be no fooling these horses and there is nowhere to hide.

As the gates open and our group files into the arena one horse is making a bee line straight for me, it’s barely acknowledging my peers as it passes, walking straight to me, blocking my entry to the arena and coming up nose to nose. It eye balls me and doesn’t move. Neither can I.

I’m not sure what emotion to feel but I know that it has to be authentic whatever it is. So I search inside myself frantically, my head is a jumbled mess of thoughts my tummy a churning mess and my heart beating a million miles an hour. Anxiety! Overwhelm! Grief? Fear of embarrassment! Fear!

I feel like I can’t breath properly, there is a lump in my throat and my chest is tight, my feet feel like they want to hightail it back to the bus.

The horse just keeps staring into my eyes, it is so disconcerting and I feel under pressure to own my sh!t.

And then it hits me, this animal is very deliberately invading my space but not actually doing anything other than just being with me. There is no aggression, no actual demands, no tugging at my clothes, no actual touching, just pure honest ‘being with’. I have done this exercise with humans several times in the past. It is a wonderful space in which to come to the understanding that there is ‘nowhere to get to’ and ‘nothing to be’ in that moment but ‘be with’ the other person.

Horses make wonderful coaches too

After months of having my personal space invaded and feeling under siege in my own house, I was given this amazing gift of comfort and reassurance from a great big 300kg horse who was helping me to reclaim my space and relax within it. All this in the first 3 minutes of our 5 hour “Discover the power of coaching with Horses” experience.

Making choices about our lives can mean some really tough decisions, best made with head, heart and gut in alignment. Something horses know a lot about and also available at

Davia McMillan – “I’m passionate about Coaching and LIVING A LIFE I LOVE, I help people re-design their lives and I would love to show you how you can LIVE A LIFE YOU LOVE” Contact me