The massive draft horse was one of the saddest, checked-out animals I have met. He’d spent years on at least one Amish farm, was isolated and probably abused, and had given up. His new owner, the director of a nonprofit equine therapy center, wanted to find out what he needed.
The first thing I did was ask if it was OK to communicate with him. Surprised but skeptical, he agreed. The notion that he could choose anything was foreign to him.
Within a week or so, he told me what he wished to be called: Duke.
When I offered to share Reiki with Duke, I made it clear that opting out was absolutely fine. As we worked together during those first months, sometimes it was a yes and sometimes a no. How long the session lasted was also up to him.
That is the core of the Let Animals Lead method I practice. It’s all meditation and no hands unless the animal initiates contact, or the practitioner knows the animal well enough to gauge whether that would be welcome.
One day Duke decided he’d had enough Reiki and walked back into the barn. I thanked him and moved on to a pig a few feet away.
A few minutes later, Duke stuck his big head out the barn door and looked straight at me. “Got any more of that?” I heard.
I assured him I did, but he’d have to wait until the pig and I were done. When I returned, he was waiting at the fence. I met his eyes and saw hope.
His owner, veterinarians, equine bodyworkers, clients, and I all worked to help Duke heal from the effects of his past, giving him choices whenever possible. He still struggles mightily with triggers. But he has friends in the herd. He connects with veterans who also live with PTSD. He even let kids dress him up for the Fourth of July. Being a therapy horse would have been unthinkable for Duke not so long ago.
While we can’t let our animals choose to play in traffic or opt out of a vet visit, there are many other options we can offer. We can give them a choice of toys, blankets, or litter boxes. We can hold out two different treats and see which gets gobbled up first. We can let cats come to us rather than chasing or picking them up. We can suggest a walk or ride and pay attention to the dog’s body language for a “let’s go” or a “not today.”
Choice frees us all to engage honestly, be our best selves, and create our “better than before.”