Tuesday, May 14, 2019

PTSD with horses: a personal journey

When I was little I was fearless. I think you are born with a certain amount of flight and I was not as gifted by the common sense fairy as some.

That is right... I made some horrible Paint illustrations for this blog!

As you mature, you learn. Fire is hot, Florida is the lightning capital of the world, Florida has 7 venomous snakes, you are allergic to bees - don't pet them, caves are fun until you have to dig your dad out and you get skewered by an old mining ladder... Important things!

When you take up horses, you learn new skills. How to read when a horse is going to: stop, buck, rear, bolt, spook, or drop a shoulder at a jump. Most of all, you learn to read emotion and intent. When to push a boundary and when to sit and wait.

More amazing Paint illustrations. You're welcome.

You reach a stasis. How to be reserved and cautious, and also open and asking.This happened for me in my early 20s. Finally intelligent, experienced, and open enough to realize that working with horses was walking a balance among the emotions of humble/confident/surprise. You hear horses make you humble a lot and they definitely made me humble considering where I started.

And then, at least or me, life happened. I would get hurt, I would let that hurt fester into a gall, and my body would grow over it like it never happened. A broken bone, a concussion, a scary fall. All water under a flooded bridge. Then more life outside of horses happened --- graduate school pressure, and crazy jobs ( I was both bitten by a lemur and yelled at by an Air Force General in the last 5 years.... for work). Finally, what broke the dam was a #MeTooSTEM experience that left me suddenly jobless and scared.

After everything, I fell back on my only constant -- horses --- and found that my comfort level had shifted in flight. Suddenly, small things in and out of the saddle created panic. I could not understand why I felt so afraid and so angry all the time -- even at the smallest things. I went out seeking answers through doctors and therapists and found out I had PTSD. Which makes so much sense. At least one source of stress was immediately eradicated. I was not going crazy I was just different now.

With PTSD, I feel like I operate completely differently compared to how I used to. I used to have a comfort zone that I pushed through into a zone of uncertainty and that was growth. Passed that was my limit --- and probably something I should not be crossing anyway. Now, I feel suffocated by this film of anxiety and fear that I have to break through to get to my comfort zone even with normal tasks. If I manage that, then I can start to push through to growth. Recognizing this  definitive difference is a huge milestone for me. For years, I have been comparing pre-PTSD me to post-PTSD me when it is not the same critter at all.
Pushing out of this BS

Life happens to all of us. I think we all have a little PTSD -- whether that be from bad falls, car crashes, or some asshole. I think horsemanship in my 2nd act is all about figuring out how I need to adjust to who I am now. What about you? Are you meeting yourself where you are now? Have you accepted who you are today? it is still a process for me.


  1. This is such a brave post. Thank you. Also I love the illustrations. When I lost Steele the trauma of that haunted me in all sorts of ways. I totally get what you said about this film of anxiety. It was crippling for a long time. It’s less so now. But I am aware of it and it needs to be factored in to my plans. You are already doing so much to help yourself

  2. Ditto to what TeresaA said - this is such a brave post. Thanks for sharing your story thus far with us. The illustrations really work - the film of anxiety is something I struggle with - although I have never heard it explained that way. It makes so much sense. Looking forward to reading more about your 2nd act. :-)

  3. I'm glad you finally found a name for what you're going through. I think we all have a little PTSD in us from years of living and just life in general. The hard part is to break through and come out the other side and not let any of the past crap we've dealt with hold us back from where we want to be and do what we want/need to do. Once we recognize what we're dealing with from the past we can certainly push through it to achieve our goals and a more peaceful happy life. Looking forward to reading more about how you're building confidence to be all you want to be.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story - it really does put things in a whole new perspective, considering trauma's experienced through a lifetime and how we can adjust to it.

  5. I'm sorry... can we please revisit the mining ladder story for a minute?!?!?!

    You reached the understanding of emotions as they pertain to horses much earlier than most, and I would imagine that has to do with skipping the "fearless" (or as I call it, stupid) phase. The older I get the more reserved I am in my training and the more anxiety I have about everything in general. This post really struck a chord with me.

  6. Definitely have anxiety about jumping etc now with being jumped out of my saddle and hurting my knee. The journey of how to get through it is one I'm still going through. However, the journey that I'm having with Mae is still a lot of fun and we're still learning a lot - it's just a different kind of lesson plan than I had envisioned in the beginning