If you already find yourself enchanted by equines – this article isn’t for you – you already have an idea of their power and potential. This, this is for the skeptics, the naysayers, those who haven’t found themselves experiencing connection with a horse. Sure, maybe you’ve been around horses, maybe you even rode a time or two on vacation. Or even made your living in close proximity to horses- but for whatever reason you never really made it past the “boss – beast” relationship. Or maybe you’ve never even been close to a horse. They seem stupid, or dirty or maybe scary. Perhaps it never even crossed your mind to think about horses other than H is for horses and horses eat hay.
And someone in your life just came to you and said they want to work with an Equine Gestaltist and their horse for coaching…and you are wondering if they’ve lost all their marbles. Let’s leave the Gestalt out for now- that’s another article you can read here. What’s this whole thing about a horse being a coaching partner, actually part of the process? Mr. Ed died a long time ago and so far there aren’t any other talking horses so what in the heck is this all about?? What can a horse do?
“There’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a (hu)man”Winston Churchill
The honest truth is science is still learning what a horse can do. Until recently there wasn’t really much of a reason to study such things because it seems kind of silly if you don’t know about horses. But those people who do see what horses can do- they’ve been talking and sharing and teaching – and those people who have been touched by horses in their work have done the same and science is starting to take notice and what we are learning is far exceeding out expectations.
- Horses actually have an effect on our nervous system and heart without even touching us. There is a measurable change in HRV, an accepted measure of stress tolerance, simply from being around horses.
- Horse can recognize an incredible number of human facial expressions and correctly interpret them
- Horses are very aware of our emotional states and will moderate their behavior in response
- Horses are highly cooperative in their social structures and can help teach us to work more cooperatively.
- The movement of a horse under a rider increases blood flow, core strength and cerebral spinal fluid circulation. Therapeutic riding programs have shown increased muscle strengthening over other forms of physical therapy in measures of core strength.
- There are numerous documented cases of increased mental cognition in developmentally delayed children and brain damage victims during sessions on horseback and those changes persist even off the horse.
- Access to equine programs are highly successful in reducing anxiety in patients with medication resistant anxiety and reducing the severity of PTSD.
Beyond these measurable effects, horses are a connection to our past. We have a collective history extending back at least 5000 years. In that time horses have been beasts of burden, fierce battlefield companions, and even food. Horses made possible the expansion of civilization. In many cultures the ability to master horsemanship was a measure of readiness for military service. Horses carry our mythology with them. Some of the oldest examples of human art are horses.
In the last hundred years our relationship with horses has changed drastically. Most people have never had a close interaction with a horse. Instead of being a necessary aid to transportation and agriculture, they have become a luxury or a nuisance to some (the mustangs). And yet, some of us are born with the “bug”- perhaps a gene – that yearns for horses- listen to the tales of horrified parents who discover their child’s first word is horse- and nothing can distract that child from a dream of a horse. We are the ones finding ways to bring horses into our modern world- pushing to understand the power of these magnificent animals. Working to make it possible for those who don’t have horses in their life to experience them as teachers, partners, and even coaches.
It’s not always about riding the horse. I’ve spent over 20 years training horses. The majority of that time I spent training humans how to understand their horses because it wasn’t the horse that needed the training. I taught them how the anxiety from their job they brought to the barn was disrupting their ride- and how to manage it so they could be present with their horse. I taught them how to balance in their body and strengthen their muscles so they could ride their horse without causing them pain – which the horse communicated in desperation as “bad behavior” on their part. I taught them how to recognize their fear and be honest about it because the “false face” of bravery was creating anxiety in their horse- a prey animal who has a hard time not equating that kind of incongruence between internal and external states as a potential threat. And in all those I saw people becoming better humans from their work with the horses.
As an Equine Gestaltist I’m now able to bring my horse(s) into a session with a client and now the horses are helping the human to learn how they show up in the world, how to sort out sticky decisions by getting through the noise to their own innate wisdom. Most of these clients will never go on to have their own horses. But they will leave with a better understanding of themselves. And that my friends is why we should all give a buck about horses- they make our world a better place.