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Healing Equine Trauma with the Let Animals Lead® Method

Updated: Jan 24

I love these real-life examples of healing equine trauma using the Let Animals Lead® Method of Animal Reiki.

chris nichols of the medicine horse project in sacremento stands with two rescue horses sharing reiki and showing how it helps to heal equine trauma

While recently teaching a Reiki 3 and Animal Reiki Teaching Training course in the Sacramento area, I had the honor to spend an afternoon at the Medicine Horse Project in Somerset, CA. The love and compassion from the horses that my students and I experienced that day will stay with us forever! I’d love to share just one of the many healing experiences that occurred that day, because it illustrates the power of learning to let go of “doing” Reiki and learning the healing power of compassionate presence within an Animal Reiki meditation.

“These horses are shut down. They just won’t connect to people with all they’ve been through. We had a Reiki practitioner go in and try hands-on Reiki last week and they said no – she had to leave. Not sure if you’re going to be able to connect with these guys today.”

So said the President and Executive Director of Medicine Horse Project, Chris Nichols, as she was giving us a tour and explaining about the “camp horses,” a group of horses they’d recently rescued who were dumped after serving at a kids riding summer camp. They came in extremely underfed and with various kinds of physical issues due to severe neglect as well as extreme mental/emotional trauma. These horses, once rehabilitated through their equine trauma pasts, can be adopted to loving homes, or live permanently at the ranch, having the opportunity to become a part of the “healing herd” that transforms the lives of many human visitors through equine-assisted therapy.

A Bit More about Equine Trauma and "Shut Down" Behaviours:

Traumatized horses (such as the camp horses) will often show “shut down” behaviors such as:

  • Standing very still and tense with shallow breathing.

  • Lack of curiosity at new people or new situations.

  • Actively avoiding eye contact and physical contact with you.

  • Standing very still while you touch them, but sometimes slightly flinching.

  • Lack of interest in treats.

This type of equine emotional “shut down” can also cause physical issues in the horses, such as:

  • Suppressed immune system

  • Weight loss

  • Ulcers

  • Diarrhea

As we stood near the paddock fence, learning details about the severe neglect and abuse history of each horse from Chris, the horses stood still, not approaching the fence line, as if ignoring our presence. Although they looked depressed, it was wonderful to hear that they had all received hoof trims, dentistry, nutritional consults as well as lots of kindness and peace since they had arrived several weeks before. A few of them still looked very thin, but most had put on a healthy amount of weight in a short period of time. All of us were truly inspired by the amazing work of the people at the Medicine Horse Project to compassionately help each and every one of these horses!

a group of animal reiki students stands near a paddock of rescue horses hearing the story of their rescue told by the owner of the medicine horse project in sacremento

Sharing Animal Reiki with Horses using the Let Animals Lead® method

Once our tour was over, it was time for my Let Animals Lead® students to offer Animal Reiki. Our number one priority is honoring the animal as our teacher and leader within the Reiki meditation. Thus, we never initiate hands-on contact during a Reiki session and animals are given lots of physical space and allowed to walk away if they aren’t comfortable.

As the students spread out across the ranch, one of the students, named Vanessa, went to the fence near two of the most depressed camp horses, a grey named Sam Elliott and a palomino named Troubadour. The horses were several feet away from the fence, standing quietly and not acknowledging the student.

Our next priority as Let Animals Lead® practitioners is our state of mind while we are with the animal: we always focus on what I call “seeing with our Reiki eyes,” in other words, seeing with our hearts. If we can look deeper than “what is wrong” with the animals and see their beautiful, bright and perfect inner light and spirit, then we can remember that, “all is well” in this moment. No amount of trauma or abuse can ever dim the beautiful light of each horse’s spirit and inner essence. That is the part of the horse we focus on. That requires each of the students to let go of all of the terrible stories we had just heard, in addition to letting go of the physical and emotional issues they could see by looking at the horse. The challenge for Let Animals Lead® students is to see the perfection of the animal in this very moment.

An Amazing Transformation Happens during a Let Animals Lead® Animal Reiki session with the horses of The Medicine Horse Project in Sacramento

As Vanessa began her Animal Reiki meditation, seeing the horses as teachers and completely ignoring their past filled with equine trauma, leading the process and perfect in this moment, an amazing thing began to happen: Sam Elliott and Troubadour slowly approached the fence and chose to make contact with her. And in that beautiful connection, they began to fully relax, breathing deeply, lips loose and relaxed, breathing slowed and deep.

Chris and I were watching this happen from several feet away and she turned to me in tears and said, “I can’t believe what I’m seeing!” My heart felt so full. It was truly a magical moment of connection.

At the end of the meditation, Sam Elliott turned around and rubbed his hind end against the fence in front of Vanessa as if to say, “Thanks, and now can you give me a scratch?” It was absolutely heartwarming to see the shut-down behaviors melt away in the space of Animal Reiki. After that initial connection with Vanessa was made, the horses came forward to the fence and began to show interest and curiosity in others who walked by. It was as if a door was opened to new possibilities!

I could hardly believe my eyes: they had literally “come to life,” playing, running and kicking up their heels with spunk! What a transformation! For me, it was yet another confirmation of the power that this gentle, respectful method can have, even on the most shut-down animals. Where another approach might result in resistance and distrust (as in the case of the other practitioner who tried unsuccessfully to connect), the Let Animals Lead® method opens the doors to connections and healing between humans and animals, even in severe cases. It’s so beautiful to see!

After feeling so depressed, here are Sam and Troubadour playing after our Reiki session:

Here's Sam, feeling so good after the Animal Reiki session!

As we gathered together after sharing Reiki with various horses on the ranch, the students all had amazing stories of connections they’d experienced during the meditation time. What warmed my heart the most was that everyone was talking about what the horse had given them, rather than how they had helped the horses. The development of a deep respect and honoring of animals is a very important part of learning the Let Animals Lead® method. Animals are not less than us humans, but equal to and vibrant sentient beings who deserve choice, preference, freedom and respect. We are not healers, but rather we are practitioners who “hold space” for animals in a way that builds trust, peace and compassion. This is essential to understand and helps to create the ideal conditions for an animal to self-heal, and that is where the healing comes from in an Animal Reiki session.

What Makes the Let Animals Lead® Method so Special and so Amazing for Helping to Heal Trauma in Horses?

The protocol of the Let Animals Lead® method varies greatly from traditional human Reiki-based protocol, however is based upon Japanese Reiki teachings. The modifications in approach have evolved because of my experiences with the many rescued animals of various species that I have shared Reiki with over the past 21 years. After receiving resistance or less-than-enthusiastic responses from animals to the “traditional” protocol, I was inspired to find better and more successful ways to share Reiki with trust, gratitude and humility. I feel so grateful to have had the honor of learning from so many amazing animals, and my mission is to advocate for animals through teaching this noninvasive and respectful approach.

An Update on one of the Medicine Horse Project Rescue Horses—Sam Elliot

3 week update: Once he was offered Animal Reiki, Sam Elliot made amazing healing progress.

Just three weeks after our visit, Chris Nichols reported that Sam was ready to be adopted! She shared with me, “His heart is unlocked! He nickers when he sees me, and his eyes are so soft. He has potential adopters coming for a meet and greet on Sunday!” I’m thrilled for Sam and excited to see where his next chapter takes him; I’m sure it will be filled with love and light on all counts!

2024 Update: Sam looking like a beautiful unicorn, happy and loved, at his forever home!

The Let Animals Lead® Method of Animal Reiki creates miracles like Sam Elliot every day, all around the world. Why? Because the power of the heart is the most powerful healer of all and, of course, horses have HUGE heart energy so they are very receptive to it. If you are interested in learning how to use this method of Animal Reiki that I pioneered in 1998 and have been teaching around the world ever since, please join me for some Animal Reiki Training!

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