I could tell you my story as that of a middle class, Southern California, blond little girl who spent hours and days riding her pony friend Onion, playing with her dog and tending to a flower garden.
I could describe an idyllic childhood and great preamble to a career as an equine wellness expert.
While that carefree version of my childhood is technically true in that there was a pony, a dog and a garden, scratch the thin veneer of normalcy and what you will find beneath the surface is a troubled, dark world and reality as far from idyllic as can be.
Dig beneath appearances and you will find the root of what shaped who I am today and the source of the kinship I feel with vulnerable horses.
The truth is that I was born in a doomsday cult and while we waited for the end of the world to come, my earliest memories, childhood and teenage years, as a female, was a study in patriarchal misogyny.
As a female child, I was taught that I was less than.
As a female child, I was taught that my body was not my own.
As a female child, I was taught that my purpose was not for me to choose
As a female child, I was taught that my voice carried no weight
As a female child, I was taught to obey without questions
As a female child, I was taught there were dire consequences for disobeying.
As a female child, I was taught I should not be ungrateful
As a female child, in the embrace of my mother, I learned I was not my own, not enough, not whole, not complete.
As a female child, I learned about the luck of the draw:
Be born a male, rule the world and the females in it.
Be born a female and learn to obey and forget your needs, wants, dreams.
Why am I here to to speak of it today?
Because there was a Garden.
And in the Garden, there were flowers, and earth, and grass, and a tree, and in the tree, there were birds.
And in the Garden, there was solace.
In the Garden, there was Nature.
And in Nature, there were moments of a wondrous dream-like state that expanded and expanded until it filled a little girl’s entire being with light and she became a part of IT ALL. She became as one with the sweet rose and the song of the birds and the bees buzzing about. She became the Garden. In the rustling of leaves, the sun soaked air, she experienced the vastness of the Universe and its love for her. And through that love, she learned, instinctively, that she held a place in the Garden and the World and it was no less of a place because she was a female child.
On the road to today, there was first a lot of fear, pain, anger, rebellion, depression, seeking.
Throughout those harsh chain-breaking and rebuilding years, there was one constant healing presence: Nature. Nature in the form of flowers, plants and trees. Nature in the form of animals.
I worked with animals and gardens in more formal ways at first and then in time, I was led to the Tellington TTouch® Method, Acupressure and Flower Essences, and gained skills that allowed me to put in practice my deeply held beliefs that loving animals and people should not come at a mental, physical or emotional cost to them.
As a female child who was coerced, I am here to tell you, there is no love in coercion, no matter how we dress it up.
Nature’s voice never left me.
As I grew, it too, grew louder, until it became a chorus of plants, trees and flowers declaring their desire to help, sharing their healing gifts and virtues with me.
The whole Garden, offering its love, kindly, patiently, selflessly, in the hope of creating greater harmony amongst all of Nature’s creations.
In time, I was led to a unique nature preserve and gardens filled with the daughters of the most ancient and delicate roses in the world and Flora of Asia Flower Essences came into life.
And then, I spent years listening.
I listened to dogs and birds and horses, and I listened to people, and I listened to Nature.
I learned that while most women have not grown up in a doomsday cult, most women I meet through my work have experienced violence and dismissal. They have been wounded in critical ways that reverberate in the whole of their lives, and in their relationship with their horse.
I saw that most of my clients are very sensitive and have enormous empathy for their horses, but lack the grounding and knowledge to help them.
I saw that too often, gentle owners are pushed about by barn bullies and trainers who want to impose aggressive models of horsemanship on them.
I saw that my clients struggled with having their sensitivity and bond with their horse portrayed as a weakness and expression of fear and amateurism.
I saw my clients’ desire to understand the reasons for their horses’ challenges, and wanting to find gentle ways to help their horses become more comfortable and confident, portrayed as making excuses for lazy, disrespectful, aggressive, stupid horses.
What I did not see very much of is anyone asking if a person can really know what it feels like to be a horse. To spend an entire lifetime bound by rules your owner dictates, having your body, mind, spirit at the mercy of someone else.
No decision your own.
Not when you leave your mother and herd
Not who your friends are
Not when you leave the friends you make
Not what you eat
Not where you sleep
Not how much time you spend outside or inside
Not when you are started - and by whom
Not what tack you wear
Not what posture and balance you adopt while working
Not what work you do
Not even, in many cases, when and how you will die
I did not see much reflection given to whether we humans can fully grasp having the quality of your entire lifetime determined by luck.
Lucky, you have a sensitive owner who sees you as an individual and respects you and your needs as a horse.
Unlucky and that gentle owner has no access to knowledgeable trainers and is at the mercy of often well-meaning but ultimately horse-ignorant pros.
Unlucky and you are just a tool. A vehicle for someone’s goods or someone’s ego. Buffed to a shine, driven fast, and parked till next time.
To the female child born in a doomsday cult, what most horses and many of their riders experience is eerily familiar.
I paid attention to what helped and what didn’t.
I learned that lucky or unlucky, being a healthy, happy horse is complicated, just as being a healthy, happy person is complicated when circumstances and experiences destroy your sense of belonging and send you drifting off, out of control, into what feels like a hostile world.
I learned that without a sense of connectedness horses and humans are lost.
And when horses and humans are lost, when there is no homeostasis, no emotional, physical and mental balance, horses and humans act up.
To be able to clear anger, fear and anxiety horses and humans are remarkably alike. To become healthy, they must first be able to gain purchase, to feel anchored, to feel seen, heard, respected.
To be able to learn, they must feel safe.
To feel safe, they must become confident.
At their own pace. In their own time.
With support and with love.
Time and time again, I have witnessed how profound, previously unimaginable shifts happen when horses and riders are given a judgement free space, and proven, gentle techniques to help their spirits and bodies settle so that change can happen.
This experience is what has led me to today and to creating this course.
I wanted to create not only a course, but a community, for sensitive horses and riders where growing confident and helping your horse do the same, is facilitated. It is the culmination of dozens of years of paying attention and helping horses and riders find balance again, alone and together.
I hope you will join us in making it a vibrant, safe and happy place.
Kathleen Aspenns, with Caroline Larrouilh