“Your life is your story. I’m helping people aim for a better story and a better narrative of who they are.”
Sue Court, Earthhorse Aotearoa.
Beautiful and Peaceful Experience
Walking through the gates at Earthhorse we are instantly overwhelmed by warmth and aroha. Nestled in a stand of native trees, Sue begins our session by introducing us to each horse and pony in turn. She then shows us the facilities – a small and cosy cabin, where counselling sessions begin, and the arena and round pen for clients to work with a therapy horse.
Sue explains to us the magic of giving and receiving counselling in the presence of horses – and indeed we see for ourselves how incredibly beautiful and peaceful this experience is. Horses, Sue explains, can help people find their true self. From a horse we can learn so much, from how to be present and mindful at each moment, to interacting with others, to discovering how our egos try to control us.
Entering the paddock with a rope and halter, Sue waits for a horse to engage with her. Gypsy stops grazing and tracks Sue’s movements. Sue stops several meters away from Gypsy, and bows her head in greeting. Then, holding out her hand, Sue turns and walks away, inviting Gypsy to follow. Gypsy does, thus indicating to Sue a desire to interact. Sue waits for Gypsy to stop beside her, and offers her the halter. Gypsy lowers her head, and the agreement to spend some time together is reached.
A Grounding Meditation
Sue, Gypsy and Vicki enter the round pen. Sue guides Vicki through a grounding meditation. Then, after careful questioning and her observations, Sue is able to guide Vicki through a series of mindful interactions with Gypsy that help Vicki make sense of an issue she has been experiencing recently.
Vicki explains: “Working with Gypsy was amazing. She mirrored my feelings and emotions, and what I was processing in my head played out before me in my relationship with her.”
It was very clear to us that Sue has a deep love and respect for horses, and a true passion for helping people.
“People, especially kids, tend to trust animals a lot quicker than they trust other people. A horse will behave in a way that is so meaningful to a client that together we can get to the root of an issue which could otherwise take several sessions to come to in counselling rooms.”
Our experience at Earthhorse was almost surreal. Seeing the love and respect between human and horse, and experiencing first hand what a horse can teach us, was truly something magical.
“A perfect mirror of our state of being.”
Could you tell us about the creation of Earthhorse – how did it come about?
We were living and working in Australia when Sarah saw that there was a facility offering training in Equine Assisted Therapy in Victoria. It was one of those WOW moments. We both had many years of horse riding and natural horsemanship under our belts as well as a passion for psychology, philosophy and neurology, so we thought it would be awesome for one of us to train in the modality. At that point I found myself jobless, so I devoted two years to training as a counsellor and an Equine Assisted Therapist. Sarah followed a few years later in counselling after she finished her doctorate in music.
What makes counselling with horses unique?
The horses make it unique. That’s obvious, but of course you want to know HOW! The best (short) answer I can give is that the horse becomes another therapist or teacher for the client, one which is easy to warm to, is grounded in being, and is so honest in their reactions to people that they become a perfect mirror of our state of being.
What obstacles did you face to get to where you are now and how did you overcome them?
The biggest obstacle in setting up the business in New Zealand was my hesitation initially. I knew I was qualified for this work, but because it is such a new thing (in a formal sense at least) the evidence for it working is more experiential than scientific, although that is changing.
Coming from an academic background I found it hard to explain and justify how it works. Now I have no problem because it has proved itself to us both over and over again. Overcoming lack of faith was a matter of doing what horses do – putting one foot (hoof) in front of the other and keeping going.
Who should visit Earthhorse?
People who want to learn more about themselves, to become more grounded and present, or to overcome an obstacle such as lack of confidence, anxiety, PTSD, etc. It is also really good for small groups wanting to immerse in a day of meditation with horses or to discover the leader within. Horses are such amazing teachers and healers that simply being in their presence can’t fail to impart something of real value.
How are the horses selected to work with clients at Earthhorse?
We have seven horses, two of which we brought back from Oz, and the rest have come to us by a variety of means – often they were unwanted for some reason. With care and love they learn to be part of the herd where they immerse themselves in horse wisdom they may have lost track of. And we train them in natural horsemanship techniques so that they are safe to be around.
When a client comes for a session we either decide ahead of time that one horse looks keen for the work that day, or we invite a client to choose a horse.
Could you share a mental wellbeing tip with the community?
Plan your life as though you will live forever but live your life as though each day will be your last, then watch your world come alive with joy. I think it was Gandhi who said that, but I’m not sure. It works for me.
If you could tell your younger self one thing what would it be?
Follow your dream. Don’t waste time doing what is expected of you, or what you think is the most sensible thing to do. Life is too precious to waste on fulfilling expectations, so follow your own inclination even if you have no idea where it is going to end up. By remaining true to your inner self your life will naturally be interesting and full of joy.
– Experience and Interview by Vicki Shannon