When people first hear about equine therapy, the first question is usually why horses?
There are a number of reasons for how horses can help humans and these are:
As a prey animal, horses are very connected to their instincts and senses, using them to be alert to danger & predators. This connection to themselves can teach us a lot about our own communication. In a session the horses may respond in ways which feel familiar e.g. an adolescent with difficulties in peer relationships notices that the horses moves away from him as he approaches. There is something in this young man’s body language that communicates fear and hesitation.
We know that body language is key in all communication. Research by Professor Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, showed that 93% of communication is through body language.
Horses, in their natural environment, live in herds; like families. They have distinct roles within their herds. Horses have a lot to teach us about being in a group. In observing horses as a herd you can see how they interact with each other, set boundaries on each other’s behaviour, have fun and care for each other.
Horses form strong & lasting attachments. For people who have experienced abuse or neglect, horses can be a safer alternative to humans. If a traumatised child can develop a bond with a horse this trust can be transferred to their outside life. Horses can be incredibly caring too, and if you are upset they often respond in a nurturing manner.
Horses are large and powerful animals. They can be intimidating for some people. This presents them with an opportunity to overcome this fear. Facing our fears and dealing with change are important aspects of life. Overcoming these challenges can be liberating and helps to boost feelings of confidence and self-esteem.
Horses can be incredibly human in their personalities – they can be stubborn and seemingly defiant at times. They also like to have fun and often turn exercises into games.
Horses are mirrors
Horses tap into people’s unconscious through their highly attuned senses, mirroring behaviours and feelings which can be used to draw parallels with a client’s inner world and their relationships with others. For example if a young person is afraid, horses may respond by moving close to them and creating a protective barrier. As the young person reaches out to touch the horse this helps them to soothe and transform their fear.
An adolescent that believes no one can help him refuses to go into the arena and turns his back on the horses. A horse comes up and pulls the corner of his hoodie. He decides to turn round and stroke the horse. As we watch, we see his face relax and his body language soften.