Bringing the unconscious into our conscious awareness (and how horses help this process)


“Something isn’t right but I don’t know what it is.”


Is this a thought you have from time to time? It may not sound exactly like this in your head, but if you’ve ever had a feeling that something isn’t quite right in your life but you can’t quite put your finger on it you will probably be able to relate to this statement. Something feels off and you know you want something to change but you don’t necessarily know what or how.

If you are currently in this state of feeling stuck, frustrated or without purpose in your life but you don’t know how to change that, it is most likely because there is something going on within your unconscious mind that has not yet come into your conscious awareness.

I can think of many times when I have been working with skilled riders who have a habit of tensing their feet in the stirrups or tensing their hands around the reins. Of course, from a teaching point of view the natural reaction to this would be to keep telling them to drop their ankles or relax their hands, but usually these issues have nothing to do with the rider’s understanding or ability. So, instead I will talk them through a body scan to help them focus on how they are feeling. At this point they are often able to pinpoint an area where they feel uncomfortable or uneasy. It may be a physical issue, such as pain in their neck or shoulders causing them to tense up in other areas or it may be due to something they are nervous about, even if they don’t consciously realise it. I spoke to someone about this recently and it helped her to understand why she felt like she spent the whole of her lessons holding her breath while she was perfectly relaxed out on hacks! She realised that she was nervous about getting things “wrong” during her lessons and felt vulnerable in that environment. Her physical reaction to this was to hold her breath, which of course restricted her performance (if you resonate with this you may also be interested in my blog, Finding Your Way Out of Achievement Mode)

In our modern lives we often spend so much time rushing around, making sure other people are happy or simply doing things because we feel it is expected of us (although we may not recognise this when we’re in that head space) that we are unaware of certain issues that are causing us to feel unfulfilled.


It’s only when we have the space, time and emotional support, to allow ourselves to bring these things to the surface, that we can make the changes we need.


One of the things I notice during every workshop I run is how observing horses can draw out unconscious beliefs and deeply held feelings, and help the attendees to actively notice any thoughts they may have around certain situations. For example, they may look at a horse standing on its own and decide that the horse looks “sad”. However, it is so often their own sadness that is coming up when they see the horse standing on its own, that they then project on to the horse. Once they are able to recognise this, and acknowledge it, we can then work through it in the workshop, unpicking the reasons why they may be feeling sad in their every day life. Many is the time that a person hasn’t even realised they are feeling a certain way until they find themselves projecting that very emotion onto one of the horses and voiced it to myself and the group.

Another example is when a course attendee chooses to attempt a connection with a horse who then moves away from them, choosing, in that moment, not to be in the attendee’s presence. Of course this doesn’t mean that the horse dislikes them (although it could be that the horse is picking up on body language that they would rather not be close to, which I’ll explain in more detail later on) but for the attendee it might bring up feelings of rejection. The horse has simply walked away and the attendee may not be used to this or may hold deep beliefs that if someone decides not to be around them it is reflection of them as a person. And/or they might believe that they may cause offence if they themselves decide not to be around someone else. Perhaps this reminds you of a time when you have entertained a visitor for longer than you would have liked to, for fear of upsetting them, if you told them that you needed to end the visit for whatever reason? Of course, for the attendee, it can also bring up a memory when a parent or caregiver, for example, didn’t spend the time with them that they needed in childhood, leaving them feeling rejected or unworthy of other people’s time.

However, once the course attendee comes to realise that the horse doesn’t have an agenda, that they are simply living in that moment, they can begin to change their own mindset towards the situation. From feeling rejected and wanting to run away, shout in frustration or cry (however they might be inclined to respond to those feelings normally), to choosing a different way of engaging. They may attempt another connection with that horse or choose a different horse to approach. The result may be the same as the first time or it may be different, but with their new-found awareness, of why they felt the way they did in the first instance, they can see the situation for what it is. The truth is, the horse has no agenda and its actions are not a reflection on the attendee or their worth as a person.


Through simple interactions with a horse, you can learn so much about how you respond in human relationships.  


In this example, it can help to bring to your awareness that in your desperation to connect with someone, you may not be being authentic. If you approach a horse smiling sweetly, but inside your heart is beating fast and you are feeling anxious, the horse will pick up on this and this could be the reason they choose to move away from you in that moment. Likewise, if you are bending over backwards to please someone, at the detriment of your own wellbeing (and perhaps feeling a little resentful for that, even though you may not actively acknowledge that feeling), then that other person will likely pick up on the fact that you aren’t being congruent.

Once this comes into your conscious awareness you can start to create stronger, more authentic connections with the people in your life.

Some people come to my workshops because they already know they want to have a better understanding of their emotions, in order to work with them towards a more authentic way of being. But even for the people who come along with seemingly no agenda, other than a deep curiosity, they will often end the workshop with a deeper understanding of how they react or respond to the people or situations in their lives. And by bringing these unconscious ways, beliefs, thoughts or uncomfortable memories to the surface, in a safe and supportive space, they can then start to make the necessary changes to enable them to live a more fulfilling and authentic life and have healthier relationships with those around them.

It’s my own journey and experience of equine facilitated learning which led me to explore how I could become more authentic in my life. I realised that the first step to bring my unconscious patterns into my awareness was to ‘connect’ with my true feelings, thoughts, beliefs and emotions. That’s what inspired me to call my Introductory workshop ‘Connect’ and if you are interested to find out more, please click here.






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