Episode 56: The Healing Power of Horses with Lisa Whalen
Lisa Whalen, PhD, is the author of Stable Weight: A Memoir of Horses, Hunger, and Hope. Her writing has also appeared in An Introvert in an Extrovert World, The Simpsons’ Beloved Springfield, Introvert, Dear, and Adanna, among other publications. Lisa teaches writing and literature at North Hennepin Community College and is an equestrian and volunteer for the Animal Humane Society.
In this episode of Peace Meal, Lisa describes two key components of her eating disorder recovery: writing and horseback riding. Underscoring the multifaceted nature of the healing process, she reflects on how writing and riding each offered unique lessons for her mind and body. Writing, she explains, supported and extended her therapy lessons, while riding provided a space to put the lessons into practice. Lisa introduces us to a few of the horses that served as mentors throughout her recovery, highlighting the lessons they could teach us all about staying present, taking up space, and being imperfect. She then translates how these and other recovery “nuggets”—the wisdom learned from horses, writing, and therapy—continue to serve her life and career.
- The mental health benefits of writing, even if we never share our writing with others
- What horses can teach us about taking up space and owning our imperfections
- The power of body language in both animals and people
- How traits like perfectionism, high sensitivity, and introversion can be harnessed for good
- Why recovery—like all growth and learning—is best taken one step at a time
In Lisa’s words:
- On the therapeutic role of horses: “For me, riding horses felt like a therapy practicum… I learned all this stuff while I was in therapy, and the horses were forcing me to practice it over and over.”
- On embracing imperfection: “There’s no end to the learning. There’s no perfect. You’re always working toward it, but it’s never a standard because the horses aren’t perfect—and they don’t care if they’re perfect or not.”
- On the support of therapy: “It started off for me as a safe space. It was this place I could go and I could talk about all the worst stuff about myself and there was no judgment. She was only rooting for me. She only wanted me to succeed and to be happy and healthy, and she had the tools and the skills to help me do it.”
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