Take a moment to imagine that you’re in a protected space. In this space, you’re truly safe to be exactly who you are, no more, no less. There is no judgement around who you are or what you’ve done in the past. It’s ok to show up, really show up, and know that you will be supported.

Even if you’ve never experienced this kind of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual safety, do your best to imagine that it can exist, and that you’re in that protected space right now.

As you visualize this, notice what’s happening in your body. Notice how layers of tension and stress start to shift, change, and even release.

As Dr. Stephen Porges puts it, “the transformative power of feeling safe” is not only important, it’s imperative for connection and healing. At Polyvagal Equine Institute, creating protected spaces is our top priority for all beings, horses and humans alike.

As you read through the following reflections by Dr. Rebecca Bailey, Jaycee Dugard, Margie McDonald, and Carmen Theobald consider what “protected space” means to you.

Reflections on “Protected Space” from trauma therapist, Dr. Rebecca Bailey

Humans, horses, and other mammals thrive on connections. It is the very core of survival. A protected space combines connection and the ability to be alone. I have written about the concept of protected spaces for forty-plus years. The definition has changed from a place to a feeling. A protected space is a place of healing and growth. It is where a person can feel safe enough to be vulnerable and to experience true regulation. It is an elusive place for many people, especially when dealing with the day-to-day struggles of our modern world. It can be accessed by accident. A place, a time, or a moment when suddenly it feels okay to let down completely, relinquish control, and let out a deep long sigh. It may just be what Deb Dana refers to as anchoring. The thing, place, or person that grounds you into a state that lets you experience a feeling of pure safety.

To me, that place has, and will always be, on or near a horse that I hold dear. Now if you know me well, you know I hold a million horses dear, but it is a true statement to say in their proximity I found my protected space. It is, for this reason, that I happily partner with horses in the healing and re-centering of individuals moving out of and through or beyond space or time when the world has felt unsafe.

For a minute, a protected space can be a moment on the beach or a walk in the woods or a quiet moment. However, or wherever a protected space is found, the key is to notice the feeling and carry it forward, inviting others to join you in the moment.

Reflections on “Protected Space” from trauma survivor, Jaycee Dugard

I don’t think I would be as well off as I am today without the protected space I had after my recovery.

The first few days of rescue were chaotic, at least in my mind. So many people, so many new experiences, so much, too much. But everyone meant well, and a lot of help was offered. It was kind of like being in the toothpaste aisle with a hundred choices in front of you and you must choose just the right one for you. Impossible!

Somehow, we ended up with Dr. Rebecca Bailey and her team. I didn’t know it at the time, but her place healed me and my girls in many ways. It was a place of connection, but also a place of calm where all the outside forces that wanted to get to me were shut out and I could relax. It was the place where I fell in love with horses and the place that I learned who I could be in this strange new world.

Years later, I now realize that I created that same feeling on the property where I choose to live. I feel protected here in my space, connected to all that come and go and truly like being here.
It’s not always easy. Stress is a factor these days, but I hope you all have a place or a space where you feel like you can breathe, reconnect with yourselves, and know what toothpaste you want for yourself.

Reflections on “Protected Space” from horse specialist, Margie McDonald

The farm, the barn, the garden, a quiet beach, sitting under the willow tree. What all these places have in common is, when I’m there; I feel calm, relaxed, and inspired. These are safe places for me. These places are my protected spaces. Spaces where I can access my feelings, explore my thoughts, find direction and peace. It’s important for us all to have a place where we feel safe to investigate and talk about our concerns and our worries. When I feel safe, I am able to discover where in my body I am holding information and begin to understand how a shift in perspective may happen. A protected space is where a person may seek answers and examine thoughts and feelings. It’s a place where one is allowed to be comfortable to process and see how things affect and influence well-being.

Reflections on “Protected Space” from empowerment coach, Carmen Theobald

When I step into my role as a coach, having a protected space is non-negotiable. I need it as much as the people and the horses that I work with. For example, if I’m concerned that someone will pop in and interrupt the session, my body is going to be in a stressed state. If my body is in a stressed state, my ability to think clearly, have access to my intuition, and connect at a heart level will all be negatively impacted.

I’ve also navigated high levels of anxiety and hyper-vigilance throughout my life. I understand at a visceral level the importance of feeling safe, and that what many people would consider as a “minor detail” can make or break the sense of security we can have in our environment and in our relationships with others.

This is especially important for me to remember when working with populations that come from different backgrounds and life experiences. Part of my responsibility as a coach, or simply my responsibility as a human, is to learn to see, and more importantly to feel, other ways of being in the world. Creating trauma informed, culturally safe, and inclusive space is one of the most important learnings of my life.

Now it’s your turn!
What does “protected space” mean to YOU?

Dr. Rebecca Bailey
Author: Dr. Rebecca Bailey

Dr . Bailey is a leading trauma therapist who specializes in complex case scenarios. She has over 30 years of experience in the field and continues to be dedicated to the notion that authenticity, common sense, and kindness are the most important elements of effective treatment. She is a lifelong equestrian and animal lover who continues to believe animals, in particular horses, have much to teach humans about curiosity and compassion.