Asking for Help
If we listen and trust, it (Spirit) will teach us all things and bring
all things to our remembrance." –A Search for God Book /
The first beautiful April week of 2012, just before I turned the magic
seventy, I arrived to help my friend, colleague, teacher and student,
Melissa, at her lovely Program. Situated atop a mountain,
in a sparsely populated horse community, the closeness to awe
inspiring Nature is very healing. I was looking forward to helping her
offer a day long Equine Facilitated Learning session from a high acuity
facility in the city.
The evening I arrived we had a lovely dinner with her daughter and
granddaughter. The conversation had not moved very far when I brought
up the topic of our pending co-teaching gig for a small private
college. My discouragement over staff reported mal-designed equine
inter-active exercises that teased the horses and used power over
techniques while purporting to fulfill treatment goals was so huge
that I told Melissa I was considering not going.
"OhOH", she responded. "You are definitely not going to like what
we've been doing after lunch before the individual energetic
gestalts". Melissa proceeds to tell me of a round ring exercise with
her small grey horse, where buckets of carrots are used as obstacles
to recovery. One patient is challenged to keep the pony away from the
buckets without touching him while remembering to ask for help from
the rest of the observing group.
"I don't know. Let me meditate, pray and sleep on it", I respond.
Next morning, I'm up early for coffee and meditation in an easy chair
by the fire with a spectacular view of the still snowcapped mountains.
On a nearby ottoman rests The Big Book. I pick it up to form my
morning spiritual reading. The pages flip to Addendum on Disease
Concept of Alcoholism.
My inner voice sparks alerting me to spinal thrill bumps coursing
through as I read Dr. Silkworth's famous words on the two things that
Alcoholics Anonymous has going for it -major contributors to its
spectacular effectiveness. First, is the inherent power of the "herd"
community formed by recovering people and their stories. He actually
uses the word "herd".
Second is the spiritual nature of these stories, non-religiousaccounts
of spiritual awakenings. William James is quoted with his notion of
spiritual insights not of the Fire and Angel Lightening variety, but
those that come to pass over months and years of personal practice in
prayer and meditation.
I fold my body into prayer pose and hold the closed Big Book on my
lap. Paying attention to my breath, I almost immediately hear my
German teachers Gerhard and Karin Krebs. "For us, Horses are Medium
to the Universe." Their favorite oft repeated quote that when I first
heard it in 05, bonded me to them as fast friends. We have since
become mutually admiring respected colleagues, teachers and students.
Ahaa! Coming out of my settled trance, I see clearly our plan. I've
been shown Gerhard telling our '07' class '' of Licensed HorseDream
during our ten day seminar in an
Austrian castle about the multi-national CEO of a world mega
corporation and his 'sand tray' like session with one of their
This particular story tells of the head CEO and his five colleagues,
all themselves CEO's of their particular country, with the Krebs'
Friesian herd in Germany that includes my heart favorite equine
partner, Benny, a half Percheron-half Friesian on a restricted eating
plan of packaged imported Russian Gold hay. This CEO's heart
'favorite' was Durk.
The five men and one woman were asked to build in the arena a
representation of their personal perception of the major obstacles to
their effective communication. They were to use the jump standards,
poles, tarp, buckets, bright colored balls and pool noodles and hula
hoops (especially cut and threaded back together with rubber hose for
Once all in the group had assembled an obstacle or part of one, the
group toured around and spoke to each other and to Gerhard and Karin
of their creation and how they perceived itobstructed effective
communication and same page thinking in their work. Then the group
was advised to retire to the grandstand bleachers where they watched
and observed in silence the behavior of the horses as they explored
the arena space containing their obstacles.
Gerhard suggested that perhaps the horses might offer a different
perspective. Their behavior might indicate a fresh response to or
perception of the obstacle. One by one the horses were turned loose
in the arena to explore. Karin reminded the group that for them,
"Horses are Medium to the Universe". When Durk entered, he
immediately went to the head CEO's obstacle.
Durk sniffed it all over as he circled around it. He then
deliberately did a slow turn on the forehand. With his butt to the
carefully constructed obstacle he mule kicked the heck out of it.
"Whew", gasped the CEO. "Maybe, I'm not in touch with the real issue.
This is clearly nothing."
As the horses moved around the arena exploring the obstacles and
elements, a different view of the problem came into being. The
resulting 'picture' opened up rich dialogues on possibilities.
After breakfast Melissa asked me for my thoughts and ideas. I told
her about my morning meditation explained above. "Hummm, I rather
like it", she responded. "It involves the whole group in the process
and may generate mutual support. One of the treatment goals is to
develop comfort in community". On our morning walk with the dogs we
crafted a shopping list for her up-coming visit to town.
Next day, the group was lovely. Several had never touched
a horse. They loved their first
arrival moments greeting the horses whose heads poked over the half
Dutch stall doors. Fran, horse safety support person, and I kept a
watch on barn isle activities while Melissa directed them to restroom
Once we circled up, Melissa covered introductions, paperwork and
expectations for safe behavior around horses. She offered information
about the equine instinctual nature and their fear responses so
similar to those of us humans. Our first activity was to place
ourselves on the arena rail and watch the horse's interact as they
were turned out by Melissa and Fran.
When the miniature donkeys arrived, they were placedin the adjacent
round ring. Nelson was mere days new to the herd, on loan from a
neighbor who knew of Sam's grief over recent loss of his barn buddy.
I was assigned as safety support person for the people engaged in
meeting the donkeys on an individual basis. All were offered the
opportunity to take turns and choose to come into the arena and move
closer to the horses or donkeys. Melissa and Fran helped with
individual introductions to the larger horses, two geldings and two
The activity of being supported by staff to get up close to a horse or
a donkey on an individual basis in the arena or round ring proved an
accurate 'diagnostic'. For those people on heavy anti-psychotic
medications, the horses appeared stand offish and uninterested. It's
as if they are uncertain who is present and thus remain on alert and
The principle of "like attracts like" proved accurate when in the
circle, Melissa asked which horse or donkey each wanted to work with
during their individual reflective round ring session. She divides
the group into six for her round ring and six with me in the ring near
the arena. I'm taking the large gelding and aged mare, a firmly
bonded pair according to the gelding; they can be switched out while
remaining in sight. He is very insecure and unable to focus without
being near his beloved; a relationship dynamic familiar to many of the
These groups are formed by the participants' personal choices and the
needs of the bonded herd mates. Fran moved between the two round
rings helping transfer horses and monitor safety. The mini donkeys
worked together in the round ring; they knew their individual and
honored the mutual choice.
After lunch both of us explained the 'sand tray' concept of building
the obstacles to recovery. They could work individually or together.
I emphasized the "Horses as Medium to the Universe" or Higher Power
surrogate the donkeys would take in this equine role play. Fran had
organized the materials in a corner of the arena and on the golf cart.
Melissa provided paper and colored markers for labels and drawings.
Before turning the donkeys out, we toured each obstacle as a group and
listened to the intentions of the builders. Melissa asked clinically
oriented clarifying questions. The group placed themselves on the
rail to watch Fran and Melissa remove the halters. We spent fifteen
or twenty minutes in silent observation of the donkey explorations.
During this time one of the elements was totally ignored. Given the
high curiosity drive of the equine nature, their 'not interested'
attitude was interesting and proved enlightening to the three women
who worked together building the world's largest best endowed cowboy.
At one point, during the construction phase, one of the men, looked
over and exclaimed quite loudly, "Hey is that really what I think it
is?" Crafted out of lead ropes forming two circles and a huge hanging
loop between the pool noodle legs, it was explicit and graphic.
The donkeys tromped all over a stick drawn margarita glass while
leaving the RC Cola can intact. It represented one patient's fear of
losing her friends now that she wasn't going to be drinking during
their sun bathing afternoons together. The donkeys persisted in
knocking over and dismantling the elements of one man's rendition of
the drill rigs he worked on. He kept entering the arena to
re-assemble and over would come the donkeys to again knock it apart.
Suddenly as he was struggling with a pesky piece of structure, he
stopped and stared. He suddenly "saw" a different way it should be
fitted. It would be safer. He shared how his boss, not an alcoholic,
was a man who didn't drink or do the after work tail gate parties; he
was into organic food and drink with healthy life style emphasis. The
boss was very supportive of this man's recovery. Our patient switched
from not wanting to go back to work to excitement over the safer
possibilities his engineer 'vision' offered with the help of the
The three women, all worried about their sour and manipulative
relationships, voiced how uninterested the donkeys had been in their
iconic cowboy. Maybe they needn't be so focused on men or sex. It
was just going to be no big deal.
Later, after the van departed on the dot of five, the three of us
cleaned up the barn and processed the teachings of the group, Fran
laughed. "I had no idea this work could be so much Fun. The whole
group was so supportive of each other. I loved the laughter - the
cheering. What a remarkable Fun Day!"
YES, I'm feeling replete with the richness of my own internalized
insights. I affirm my gratitude for recovery, for the Twelve Steps
teaching me to remember to ask for help. I especially appreciate
Melissa, her lovely herd, her precious family, Fran and her 'good
hand' nature and all the dogs and cats. What a Happy Barn!
It's been an especially rich recovery day for me; my last as 69 yrs.
I am feeling blessed for being able to do this work surrounded by
trees and mountains. I am delighting in my total trust of Melissa
and Fran and the horses. AHO
PS 4/15 reading in GOD GRANT ME meditation book is: Appreciation is
a wonderful thing; it makes what is excellent in others belong to us
as well. –Voltaire