5 Horses, 4 Stalls: Self-Acceptance Despite Struggling with an Eating Disorder

We had an interesting situation that created a lot of anxiety for everyone in our family.  We had more horses than stalls and winter was coming.  “What do we do?” became the question at hand.   Pondering the question and proposing various solutions became a familiar topic of conversation and pastime.  None of the solutions were acceptable and it was obvious that it was unbearable to give up any of the horses.  So, eventually we decided to add a stall to the existing barn and we all sighed with relief.

This process was carried out over a period of months and caused much stress, it was something that made a lasting impact and was not easily forgotten.  We can now look back on this time and be satisfied that we made the decision that we did and are now beyond that place.  Through the years we have needed the extra stall and have made good use of it; sometimes we have wished we had even more stalls.

The solution to our dilemma was in no way affected by the horse’s looks or appearance.   Neither was it affected by the cost of their specific feed or veterinarian needs.  Each horse was held in our hearts with equal esteem regardless of physical appearance, color, health status, age, height, or weight.  This was a relatively easy thing for us; however, for those who struggle with Anorexia, Bulimia, or Binge Eating Disorders, worth is often established by size, weight, overall appearance.  However, since the personal perception of those with eating disorders is extremely distorted and their ability to honor themselves appropriately is absent, the desired appearance is never achieved in their eyes.  Yet, an interesting phenomenon is that those with Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorders have the ability to be accepting of those around them who fall short of their personal eating disordered standards.  The standard for others is much more realistic than those the eating disorder had decreed for the victim.

The “5 horses, 4 stalls” concept  seemed to be a topic that would be well suited for Equine Therapy.  I prepared a description of the 5 horses that we were working with for this specific session along with their individual requirements and asked each participant to carefully consider their needs and estimated costs of upkeep.  Next I shared that we would need to eliminate one of the horses from our team because of a space issue.  They were made aware that this was a fictitious activity and that indeed no horse would really be removed from the equine program.  Next, I asked them to evaluate the candidacy of each horse for continuing in our equine program and to give a decision and rationale for dismissal from the Equine Team.  One of the 5 horses was our Senior Equine Member and was at that time 40 years old.  Even though he was remarkably healthy his body was not the specimen of youth; his back was somewhat swayed and he required a senior meal plan with numerous supplements.  Our two year old was in the prime of physical health, while other horses were in equally good health they were very different in height and size.  This activity was remarkably difficult for each participant; they conferred, debated  opinions, and needed to be reassured that this was only a pretentious activity.

It was very interesting that each participant’s decision was not based in any way on the appearance of the specific horse.   No one chose to dismiss the oldest horse who had the greatest needs, whose body was the least physically fit, and was most costly.   They expressed a concern that this older horse would not be taken care of appropriately if he was rejected from the team.  Never did they mention that he was physically unappealing or unworthy, actually it was just the opposite.  Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if those who struggle with the distortions of Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorders would be as respectful of themselves as they are of others?

I truly believe that they have the capacity to move to a place of self-respect and Recovery, yet it is a difficult and long journey that is fraught with many tribulations.


Lynda A. Brogdon, Ph.D., C.E.D.S., C.E.A.P.

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Canopy Cove’s Eating Disorder Treatment Programs offer compassionate, comprehensive treatment for females, males, adolescents, and adults, who are struggling with Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorders and Co-Existing Diabetes, Depression, and Anxiety. Equine-Assisted Therapy is an weekly part of the Recovery process at Canopy Cove.