Autism & Horses
" Sometimes I think you believe in me more than I do', said the boy.
'You'll catch up', said the horse "
― Charlie Mackesy
From The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
Dawn has worked with Autists and their families for close to 20 years. Here, in excerpts taken from her book, The Empowered Herd, she gives a remarkable and beautifully described account of her experience in working with a boy called Scott and his time with the Heartshore herd.
“I am not a medical expert or a scientist, I do not rely on research or statistics. Instead, I am mindful of what I see and how my heart and body respond. I listen to what my soul tells me, and what the souls of others tell me.
My perception is that the condition of true Autism is a symptom of our drift away from source.
Those born with Autism, the true Autists, come into this life with much more of a connection with nature in her wildness. The true Autist can find relationship much easier with an animal, or with the wind in the trees, or with the flow of water.
Those true Autists have an excess of wild nature ─ almost too much of a connection of what is chaotic and beyond understanding. Most of us are holding too tight; Autists are spinning too wildly. Horses are in the middle, betwixt and between.
This is where we can meet, in the energy of a being who holds both extremes of that pendulum swing in balance. The horse can exhibit the most beautiful and graceful control and expression of wild nature in the same breath. The Autist can meet us there and here is where we can meet the Autist.
Every true Autist has a gift, some extraordinary fascination with some element of the world and how it expresses.
For Jenson and for Harry, it was spirals made by ribbons or pieces of string twirled in the air. For Daniel it was throwing; making an object fly through the air and fit through tiny spaces. For Lily it was speaking in rhyme, for Dylan it was water and horses and for Scott, it most definitely was water: How it collects and holds light, how if you throw it into the air towards the light wings of the sky, its falling to earth would describe unfathomable shapes and heavenly images. Scott would scoop water from anywhere. Rivers, ocean, streams, puddles water troughs. Gathering it with his two hands, then flinging it with delighted abandon into the air, one element into another. The water would separate into airborne rivers and droplets, propelled by Scott and speed, it met gravity, that mysterious invisible force that holds us to the earth and stops us floating off into space.
Then it falls to earth forming shapes and images invisible to us, but absolutely clear to the boy who awaited them gazing upward with rapture on his face. This activity with water was the presenting symptom of Scott’s “dysfunction” that his mother, Lorraine had been told by Scott’s team of medical professionals he had to stop. It was labelled stimming, a type of self-stimulation and Lorraine was being directed to stop it, being told it was preventing Scott from having a relationship with the real world.
It may have been true that Scott did not wish to engage with the world and preferred to stay in the dimensions he created with his water sculptures, but I wanted to understand why he was doing that behaviour before I was willing to try to persuade him out of it.
And when I witnessed his interaction with water, the joy, the ecstasy on his face as he watched the droplets integrate with the air and the light, I knew something else was going on. Something sacred. I became fascinated and so did the horses. Several stood close by and watched Scott at the troughs not minding if they got splashed, or when Scott carried water to them and watched it run off their coats. When Lorraine tried to remove Scott from the troughs, causing him to become distressed and the horses to move away, I explained that I believed something important was going on and that we should allow it and seek to understand it. Lorraine was relieved to hear this and shared that in her bones, she had known the doctors were wrong. And so began a long relationship between Scott and Heartshore.
The first time I met Scott I was waiting for his arrival on the veranda outside the tack shed. The family was a little late. Suddenly without warning, the child appeared at a dead run around the corner of the tack shed, straight past me, through the fence, across the paddock, through the second fence and out into the herd. The horses were hanging out at the water trough. As one organism, the herd was in the zone, preparing for the arrival of this significant child. Before I could catch up with him, Scott had run up to the largest horse, Murphy, a huge black Irish cob, and kicked him as hard as he could in a foreleg. Murphy did not flinch. It was as if he and the horses around him opened their ranks and absorbed the impact of Scott, just as a lake absorbs the impact of a stone thrown into its depths.
Scott was a stone thrown by the hand of God into the lake of horse. After kicking murphy as hard as he could, Scott proceeded to move around the great horse, touching him with delicate hands, running inquisitive fingers through his tail and exploring with fascination, the huge, thickly feathered hooves that bore Murphy’s one tonne upon the earth. All I could do was stand by and witness this encounter with awe. It quickly became apparent to me that Scott had no intention to hurt Murphy in the kick he inflicted. It was simply his way of making contact. I was to wonder later why Scott saw violence as a way to connect. But at the time I knew to read the impact of Scott in the response of the herd.
Nobody instructed me in this, it was something I implicitly knew how to do from hours and hours spent in the presences of my secure, safe, empowered herd. If I wanted to know a person, I need only read him or her in the widening or softening eyes and nostrils of my horses, in the flicking ears and tails, shifting hooves, sounding breaths. The gift I believe that Scott and all true Autists receive from the horses is one of acceptance and understanding. The elemental nature that moves them to extremes because it is misunderstood, feared, and repressed is expressing naturally in the horse. It is not feared but understood. In a world where such force is feared, misunderstood, and medicated, to be free amongst the Heartshore horses was an unparalleled paradigm shift for Scott and Lorraine.
It must be said that Lorraine, and Baz, her husband were extraordinary in their holding of the wild force of nature that was their son. Like the herd, they made room in their beleaguered hearts to provide that holy shelter their son needed. As far as they were able, notwithstanding injury to themselves, they tried to absorb the extremes just as the horses had done. They travelled far and wide to discover the best provision available for Scott and they embraced the challenges he brought them without the use of drugs. I deeply honour them.
Over the years of his association with us and the herd, Scott learned to regulate himself and not be terrified of his emotional outbursts. It was the horses, secure in who they were, free to express themselves in a spirit of allowance and understanding whose sensitive strength aided Scott in his healing and transforming his relationship to himself and his family.
Perhaps it is unparalleled as a healing modality, to take Autistic children and other troubled individuals out into the energy of the herd. The herd is a living breathing organism, rich in the medicine of embodied nature. If redemption is to be found on the journey back into connection with the universe, where better can we experience the force of nature than in the midst of a herd of horses? A secure herd, empowered and confident, held by a sensitive human. A herd whose social order is rarely, if ever disrupted, where the individual members can move at will and be moved. Where the soles of their feet are against the earth, and where trust, not pain and fear, form the basis of relationship." From The Empowered Herd, by Dawn Oakley-Smith