Horses are amazing beings. In my practice and life I have had the good fortune of knowing a great many of them. They all have very different personalities, but one key feature that is important in working with them is that they are prey animals. Being an animal that is hunted often in the wild, they have strong instincts to know exactly what is going on around them at all times. Horses are keenly tuned into what the people around them are feeling at any given moment and use what they are sensing in how they respond in order to feel safe. Often, if you walk right at a horse that you don’t know, they will balk and move away from you.
In equine-assisted therapy, we use their keen intuition to help us heal, grow and learn new ways of connection.With the people that I have worked with, it has proven to be an important tool in helping to develop an understanding of how they related to and communicate with the world around them. It helps me to see how they interact with another being and the horses have often shown me things about people that I would perhaps never have picked up on in an office setting.
The horses that I work with are rescue animals and, like the people I serve, have often suffered at the hands of others. Interestingly, they tend to take readily to people that have suffered trauma. People who have suffered trauma are also keenly aware of the possible dangers around them and, at times, have a difficult time functioning due their perceptions or fear. In equine therapy, I help people connect with horses in order to help overcome some of these fears about themselves and the world around them. You, the horse and I work as a team where you and the horse are responding to each other and I give you feedback, as well as activities to help you work on your challenges
One of the common areas where I see horses help people is in their ability to challenge people to grow in their self confidence. As pack animals, horses are constantly playing follow the leader and are always trying to decide who the leader is going to be for the day. (Spoiler alert: It’s usually a female). They play games and sometimes chase each other around to see who it is going to be. One of the games they play is, ”I made you move your feet more, so I win.” I have used this principle many times in teaching people to be confident in how they relate to others and to better understand how to build confidence in themselves. It has also proven effective in helping people learn to lead in many situations rather than just letting things happen to them.
This is an important point for those of us who have survived trauma because oftentimes, as Dr. Basel Van der Kolk has pointed out, “talking about trauma may not be enough. People have to do something in order to teach their brains that they can win in situations.” People who have suffered physical and mental attacks have differences in their brains which can cause difficulties in many parts of their lives. Some have found that when they learn to lead in certain situations, their brains respond differently.
I have seen this in a person who had suffered with complex trauma issues and was a war veteran. I worked with them for a few months and, at the beginning, I noticed that when they were with the horse, their head was always ducked down. I asked them about it and they said that “I don’t ever look at people because I am ashamed.” We made it part of their practice that they would be mindful and try to carry their head and shoulders high when they met with people. Through equine activities, along with learning other skills, they made a number of dramatic, positive changes. After several months, they were much more confident, had less chronic pain, had decided to leave their abusive partner and buy a farm — as well as get a horse.
Equine therapy has the power to make changes in people’s lives and help them learn how they can see themselves differently and work toward making a difference in the world.
If you want to feel the healing and change that horses can bring to your life call me today for a consultation (503) 236-7094.