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  • Dr. Lindsay E. Vaughn, licensed clinical psychologist, founder and director of Hazel House

Horses, nature, ceremony, oh my!

If Spirit can do it, we can too.


Back in October 2018, I was lucky enough to spend a whole weekend outdoors, camping on the magical farm of ILC's founder, Lee McCormick. Lee partnered with Dale Phillips and Clint Crawford (founders of the REINS Model of Equine Therapy) to offer a weekend retreat for healers and helpers. Words cannot express how grateful I am for opportunities such as this one! We sat around campfires, ate wholesome, delicious food, shared openly about our past and present struggles (yes, we therapists struggle sometimes), spent time in ceremony and with a variety of animals. I was in my element in every way.

The best part of the weekend, however, was watching Spirit (pictured here) conquer her greatest fear. For whatever reason, she was terrified of that blue tarp, as soon as it was brought into the ring. As it was held, folded, by her handler, she jumped and bucked and wiggled and squirmed. She consistently tried to get away. We knew the tarp would not hurt her, but she was terrified nonetheless.

In less than an hour, though, Spirit was able to tolerate the tarp being next to her, then on her back, and eventually, spread over her entire body, including her head. How did she do this? It's simple. Someone who cared deeply was willing to stand with her, allowing her fear to rise and fall over and over again. He kept his own nervous system regulated so that she could sense the safety of the situation through the sensations in her body. He patiently waited and watched until Spirit guided him to bring the tarp closer, all the while offering soothing affirmations to highlight her brave progress.

This is exactly what we do with our clients in therapy. We help them identify the tarps in their lives, and then we stand by, holding the tarp for them, waiting patiently for some indicator that they're ready to get one step closer. Spirit showed me this so clearly. If not for Dale's gentle approach, Spirit would have remained terrified of tarps. But today, she is free. So I'll urge you to ask yourself, just as Dale and Clint asked us that day, "What are the tarps in your life, and when are you going to get free from them?"

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