A Safe Space for Grief

Horses help people release trauma and process grief

By Tara Coyote, Wind Horse Sanctuary

Grief has been an inevitable part of my life in the past few years. Four years ago, my best friend of nineteen years, Deb, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, the most aggressive form of blood cancer. I became one of her main caretakers throughout her illness from diagnosis to death. Sadly, she died twenty-two months after diagnosis at the age of 46.

Grief came with her hooded robe to sweep me away in this dramatic territory of loss. She demanded I pay attention to her, learn from her shadow lessons, and ultimately embrace grief fully to move on and integrate the death of my most beloved friend and soul sister. Grief became a gift for me to remember how precious life is. 


While in the throes of sadness I realized there was no place for grief in our modern day culture. The prevalent attitude was, “Why are you still grieving the loss of your friend? Can’t you just get over it already?” Many people didn’t know what to say or how to approach me when I was carrying such a hole in my heart. The awkwardness of social habits around grief makes it unceasingly difficult for those experiencing a loss. Those of you who have encountered a debilitating loss in your life will understand this social phenomenon.

I was inspired to create a safe place for participants to release their grief, as the prevalent attitude in society is to suppress grief.

Creating a Safe Space for Grief

I decided to do something about this lack of knowledge of grief in our culture. I decided to combine the Equine Facilitated Work I was trained in by Linda Kohanov at Eponaquest and combine grief work; hence ‘Grief Rituals with Horses’ was born.

I was inspired to create a safe place for participants to release their grief, as the prevalent attitude in society is to suppress grief. I realized that for me to truly get over the loss of my closest friend I would have to dive into my grief to fully understand the lessons it had to teach. My horses were a key element of my healing and I knew they would provide the same therapeutic effect on others in their grief process.

One year after Deb died I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer. It was clear to me that the loss of Deb was a big part of why my body grew the cancer, as the tumor was right over my heart. The death of my friend was a tremendous loss and my body found an ingenious way to contain the paralyzing sadness I felt.  I decided to pursue an all-natural path of treatment, which you can read about on my website  and Facebook page: A year after following a regimented natural healing protocol I am miraculously almost cancer free. I have surprised all my doctors with how fast I am healing!

Sadly, two years after Deb’s death, one of my other closest friends and mother of my niece died from colon cancer at the age of 47. Having two of my most beloved friends die so young within a short period and journeying with my own life-threatening diagnosis has been tremendously difficult. I can attest to the power of the Grief Rituals and the healing power of the horse herd I am blessed to live with. My four horses have provided such tremendous grounding, inner reflection, and energetic healing in this time of grief and self-healing. I know a big part of why I am recovering so fast is due to their tremendous capacity to hold space for me in a loving and solid manner.

Supported by the horses, I would have to dive into my grief to fully understand the lessons it had to teach.

Grief Rituals with Horses

A ‘Grief Ritual with Horses’ might look like this:

Attending to the subconscious mind and what elements of wisdom grief holds through the process of various exercises such as: mandala making and guided meditations.

  • Attending to the subconscious mind and what elements of wisdom grief holds through the process of various exercises such as: mandala making and guided meditations.
  • Dropping into the body and paying attention to the subtle sensations and wisdom that our bodies hold. Your sore shoulder could be containing information for you that might aid you in your own life’s purpose. What better way to access that wisdom to actually listen to it rather than suppress and ignore the pain? 
  • Spending time with the horses in a reflective manner and allowing the majestic beings work their silent magic with you. Horses have huge hearts. I believe that a big part of the quality of healing we experience from being around horses comes from their ginormous hearts.
  • A focused grief ritual where we take time in a group format to name our grief over a lengthened period of time. In this process we give a voice to old, unprocessed grief that one might not be aware of. Unprocessed emotions becomes stuck within the body of our cells and in order to free it, it is essential to release past traumas and wounds. Once released, it allows us to move on to embrace our lives fully.  Having the courage to express grief in a group format allows individuals to come together and know they aren’t alone in their process. Unspoken grief can be a very isolating and lonely experience.
  • Having quiet time to connect with one’s self to acknowledge the feelings experienced are real and valid, which creates a sense of self-acceptance and ultimately true healing.

How the horses respond in every grief ritual is different, for each group of people is unique, as each horse is uniquely different. It is fairly predictable that there will be licking and chewing, yawning or some sort of release response occurring from the horses while with the humans. Usually the humans feel a sense of relief after sharing their grief with the horses, as they have the ability to listen deep to the soul.

I am truly grateful and honored to be traveling across the world from Northern California to be presenting the grief work I am so passionate about. I look forward to diving into the wisdom of the horses with all of you!

Tara Coyote owns and operates Wind Horse Sanctuary, a 10-acre ranch in Northern CA where she practices Equine Facilitated Learning with her four horses. Tara was certified through Linda Kohanov’s organization Eponaquest in 2014. She was trained as a life-coach with an emphasis on combining coaching with Equine Facilitated Learning at Equine Alchemy with Lisa Murrell and Schelli Whitehouse in 2015. She leads workshops, private sessions and ‘Grief Rituals with Horses’ with the focus of self-development and healing. Wind Horse Sanctuary is a tranquil environment where guests can stay on the property for their own private retreat or for workshops.

Tara will demonstrate Grief Rituals with Horses at the 2018 Spirit Horse Festival. 

 

Find out more about our presenters and what's in store for the 2018 festival program

  • December 5, 2017