If you want to deal with your demons, it's appropriate to make a pit stop at a place as hot as hell -- Tucson, Arizona, in the summertime. It's 100-plus degrees right now -- with dark, ominous clouds erasing the Santa Catalina mountaintops in the distance. It's the monsoon season, which means big storms. But for the five women and two men sitting on hay bales in front of Wyatt Webb, it appears that there are bigger storms brewing.
A sweet, musty smell of horse lingers in the air, and for no reason at all, a 1,300-pound chestnut gelding fittingly named Monsoon rears and tears off in a farting, sweating gallop. This is his way of welcoming people to a new form of therapy that blends horse sense with common sense. Monsoon's massive body, thick mane, and tail fly through the air as he releases a high-pitched scream that rips into your eardrums and rattles your insides.
Wyatt's just as much in awe of this beautiful animal as everybody else is. He tells the group, "That's sheer joy. It's also an emotion that's somewhat foreign to most of us humans on a daily basis."
Perhaps it's time for an introduction.
"My name is Wyatt," he says to the seven people in front of him. "Welcome to the Equine Experience."
By the looks on their faces, these people are ready for an experience. They don't appear to have felt joy for some time. But they miss the feeling, so that's why they're here. They could clearly be elsewhere, but they chose the Equine Experience, which is offered every day of the year at Miraval, one of the top resorts in the world. Even though the people gathered in front of me certainly have the means to be doing something else at this particular point in time, they wouldn't prefer a seat in first class, or a velvet-covered cushion in the lobby of the Four Seasons -- they're right where they belong.
Wyatt starts the session by telling these folks that he's not here to change anybody's life. "I don't have the power to do so," he says. "I don't have your answers. To allow you to think that I do would be a complete lie and a total disservice to you.
"Now I'm certainly not here to argue with or discredit traditional therapeutic modalities. I'm not accusing anybody of doing a shitty job or saying that traditional psychotherapy isn't helpful. But I certainly hope that we can add to whatever already exists in the therapy world as you know it."
Wyatt then shares with them what was told to him by Logan, the counselor who, 22 years ago, helped save his life, his mind, and his very soul. What he said was this: "If you're to achieve the peace, joy, and spiritual fulfillment that you want so badly, it depends upon one thing and one thing only -- your willingness to simply do something different."
So to those clients who have spent half a lifetime in therapy with minimal results, Wyatt smiles and states the obvious: "If the practice that you've been involved with hasn't produced definitive changes, then guess what? It's not working. Maybe what you're doing could be remedied so that you can discover what does work."
Now, even though Wyatt has been a practicing therapist for a number of years, his tools don't involve a leather couch and his helpers don't arrive in suits or high heels. Of course, they wear shoes -- but not the kind they sell at Bloomingdale's.
"You're going to clean some hooves," he tells the group, "and you're going to groom the horse. How you relate to this animal will tell us what you've learned over the course of your lifetime concerning how you relate to all living things. Your basic training has come from learning how to treat people." He pauses and adds, "Remember one thing: It's not about the horse. I mean, sure, I can teach you a few basic skills that will keep you safe in any barn in the world, but what we're here to look at is what you've learned over the course of your lifetime that either works for or against you in your relationships."
He stops for a second and then continues. "Keep in mind that you've been conditioned to be externally focused in all of your relationships. This is one of the true impediments to our being able to learn anything about ourselves. Let me ask you this: How much time do you spend during the day wondering what others are thinking and feeling, and concocting stories about why they're behaving as they do? See, as long as I'm focused on you in such a manner, it will be impossible for me to connect with you because I'm not present with myself.
"So, what I suggest you do is pay attention to what you're thinking and pay attention to what you're feeling. Know that these two things dictate the way you live your life. By focusing your attention internally as opposed to externally, you'll be able to be present enough to connect with any other living thing, which will also cause you to take responsibility for your life and how you live it. Will I judge you? Of course not! But I will observe."
Wyatt promises these people that today he will pay attention. "Ask me for help if you need it," he tells them. "I pledge to tell you the truth, to be kind, but sometimes to be blunt. Together, let's examine the stories you're making up to see how many of them are based in reality. Personally, prior to the age of 36, almost every story I had was based in a lie. But I'd like you to remember that it doesn't take nearly as many words to tell the truth as it does to bullshit somebody."
Here he switches gears, for it's time for a few specifics. "The horses are the same for every person who chooses to be with them. Whichever horse you choose will serve as a mirror to your energy system -- what you think, what you feel, and every move your body does or doesn't make."
He makes it clear that the person dealing with the horse is the one who tells the whole story. And most of the stories he sees have one thing in common: pain. Most of this pain is rooted in self-doubt and fear. For instance, one man in the group says, "I can't remember when I didn't hurt. I think it's the world that messes us up."
"Well," Wyatt asks him, "whose job is it to clean up the mess?"
Then he turns to the audience and says, "We've been imprinted. We're born being called 'bundles of joy.' Well, that's true. Babies generally are full of joy -- they're born happy and remain so unless they're hungry or experiencing some discomfort. Once that's alleviated, they're right back in the joy state. They're at one with everything when they arrive on the planet. They run on pure emotion.
"They don't know what it means to doubt themselves or to be afraid until about five days into the trip, when they begin to soak up the energy of the adults," Wyatt says. "Then they feel the inconsistency. At this point in time, welcome to a world full of scary people.
"Every culture I've ever been subjected to appears to be frightened," he explains. "I've been working as a psychotherapist for 20 years, and if I could boil down every problem that ever walked through any office that I've occupied -- and this includes when I've been alone in the office -- every human being suffers from two things in varying degrees of intensity, two things that are taught to us. They're called self-doubt and fear.
"There's the fear of physical harm and of emotional harm. There's the fear of not being good enough. There's the constant fear of being discovered. In fact, I've done a lot of team building with corporate systems, and what do you think the one thing that CEOs, presidents, and vice presidents of companies don't want the people working for them to know? They don't want anyone to know that at any given moment, they're completely clueless about what they're doing. I've been privy to and a part of this phenomenon by watching everyone run through the world 'bluffing it.' It seems that most people truly aren't aware of what they're doing."
Wyatt's next words take the concept to a deeper level. "Anyone who really wants to grow, expand, and know who they are has to travel uncharted territories all the time. So that kind of person has to live in a world of 'I don't know,' which is scary, but that's the only place where you learn anything. What you always find on the opposite side of fear and self-doubt is joy. Joy is our birthright -- we're born with it. But it gets taken away from us and we have to go back and reclaim it.
"So, what we'll do today is not about discovering who you are. It's about remembering who you are," he says. "End of story."
Wyatt gives the group some things to think about. "Why do we continue to fight with each other? Thousands of years ago, we began with hand-to-hand combat. Then we picked up some stones, which was followed by the fashioning of weapons. Now we have the means to eradicate ourselves from the planet. We even have the audacity to call this 'progress,'" he says. "The problem is that we're afraid, and that's the reason we fight each other. We keep making it about other countries or religions, and it's not. Why can't we sit down and talk about what we're afraid of? We're afraid to tell the truth."
Wyatt shakes his head and mentions that Monsoon solidified this theory for him about a year ago. "One day I was riding him, and I was transitioning from the walk to the trot to the canter. It's called 'changing gaits.' The walk to the trot -- no problem. But even after ten years of riding, the power of that canter still scares me. I tried to push Monsoon into a canter twice, and both times I miscued him. My fear had me off balance -- literally and figuratively. So, I eased back to the trot, and I got frustrated. Like I had done 10,000 times before when things weren't going my way, the tail started wagging the dog, so to speak. I was the friggin' dog, and here we were in a mess again.
"I was about to move into a canter for the third time, and again I felt that I was off balance. This time, I was determined to win. I said, 'The hell with it,' and cued him anyway. Monsoon shifted his massive frame, and I felt his power ripple underneath me." Wyatt pauses and takes a look at his audience, who seems to have forgotten about the prickly hay bales or threatening storm clouds.
"I was so off that most of my weight shifted forward, which in the horse world is called 'throwing the horse on the forehand.' This was his cue to stop. And he did. I flew over his head about 20 feet onto the ground. If I hadn't had a helmet on, it would have killed me. I hit the ground with a bang! People heard it all the way back at the barn, some 40 yards away.
"Somehow in my daze, I managed to get up, checked to see if I was dead, and brushed the dirt and muck off. Meanwhile, Monsoon was looking at me as if to say: 'What the hell are you doing down there?'
"In that humiliating, spirit-crushing, bone-aching, ah-ha! moment, a light bulb went off in my head. I thought to myself, I finally get it. Anytime I'm in a relationship with any living thing and I have the need to win, the possibility for connection and closeness is over. All I ever wanted was that closeness and connection. In fact, I think we're all homesick for it.
"At the time, I wish I'd just been able to get honest enough to back off and go, 'Wyatt, you're off balance. Pull up or you'll get hurt.' But do you think I could even go to that place? I had to damn near kill myself to figure it out. I had this lesson to learn, and my spirit was saying, 'Yes, it's going to be a tough one. So let's go.'
"Thankfully, my spirit also said, 'Put your helmet on, you damn fool, so you can live through it and we can learn it," Wyatt says.
He goes on to explain that he's never had that same issue with Monsoon ever again. "I've had that problem with a few people," Wyatt laughs, "but I've been able to reign it in because when I find myself trying to win, it's time to stop. Because somebody has to lose. This whole culture is set up this way. We've got to win, which means we're going to lose. It means that we cannot even hope to connect with each other." As he gazes at the crowd of onlookers, it seems like they finally get it.
For Wyatt, it's all about connection, and the first step to healing is connecting with a horse. Those who want to connect have issues that include mental, physical, and emotional abuse not limited to marriages on the rocks, parent-child relationships gone bad, and much worse concerns including rape and abandonment.
Now it's time to get to work. The group is brought into a large arena and each person is told to choose one of the six large, inquisitive horses waiting for them. Next to each animal is a small bucket with tools to clean the horses' hooves, and various other grooming utensils associated with preparing a horse for saddling.
Wyatt tells everyone to approach their horse and greet the animal at its shoulder. He takes aside one young man and suggest that he stop rubbing the horse for dear life.
"Try to leave a little fur on the horse, because the sun is gonna come out and I don't want him to get burned," he says quietly to the young man. "You also don't need to sweet-talk him."
"I'm trying to get him to like me so he'll cooperate," says the man.
"So," Wyatt asks, "is this one of your learned behaviors? Is your motto: If I'm nice to you, then you must be nice to me back?"
"I guess I always try extra hard to get people to like me," says the young man. "I figure if I'm the nicest person in the whole room, people will have to be nice to me back."
"Let me suggest to you the fallacy behind that one," he explains. "You're not really being nice to anyone. You're being manipulative. You're only acting nice in the hopes of preventing people from rejecting you. True kindness comes with no charge. Later on, the universe just pays you back."
The mini-dramas being played out on this sandy desert floor can easily become much more serious, though. For example, Katie, a young lawyer whose parents abandoned her and sent her to live in various foster homes is afraid of her horse because she's scared to death of being rejected again.
"If you walk through your fear that something must be wrong with you, then what you always find on the other side is that there's nothing wrong with you. And there's nothing to be afraid of," he tells her.
"What happens then?" the woman asks, sobbing.
"When you get to that other side, there's only one thing waiting -- joy."
Those wanting that feeling are looking for some help -- and God, does Wyatt understand how they feel. After all, it's impossible for him to forget his very first client. This guy was the toughest bastard he's ever worked with, and he almost made Wyatt give up on everything.
That man was Wyatt himself. . . .
This article is excerpted from:
It's Not About the Horse
by Wyatt Webb.
About the Author
Wyatt Webb survived 15 years in the music industry as an entertainer, touring the country 30 weeks a year. Realizing he was practically killing himself due to drug-and-alcohol addictions, Wyatt sought help, which eventually led him to quit the entertainment industry. He began what is now a 20-year career as a therapist. Today he's the founder and leader of the Equine Experience at Miraval Life in Balance, one of the world's top resorts, which is also located in Tucson.