Many of the experiences I have working with horses over the years seemed to naturally tap into a deeper level of consciousness. I don't know what the mechanism is, but the horse facilitates those who are ready to enter this shift. I am absolutely convinced that certain horses, like people have stepped up to the plate ready to co-evolve a different level of being for humans and animals. In sessions with horses it is unpredictable, the internal director within the participant decides how the work will proceed and the horses will go with that direction, they may react or not but they do allow whatever is - to simply be.
The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse's ears.
For decades, horses have been employed in therapeutic programs throughout the United States and have helped thousands of people overcome serious physical and emotional challenges.
Brief History of Horse / Human Bond
Documentation from ancient Greece indicates that the concept of horse assisted therapy dates back to 600 BC. Going back even further to Greek mythology, Chiron, the Centaur (half-man, half-horse) was seen as a force of wisdom but also a symbol of strong body and sharp mind who engaged in the soulful art of healing and discovering one's destiny. Through a series of events, Chiron ushered in a new era of the wounded healer. As a centaur he symbolizes the multi-dimensional genius of uniting mind, body, instinct, intuition, and reason. His holistic approach to healing integrates the physical, emotional, and relational aspects of the individual.
As a symbol the horse is often associated with freedom and power. Horses have enabled people to explore the world, expand perspectives, and liberate themselves from oppression. Horse have helped to build and settle entire civilizations, they have fought countless wars and provided mobility and cartage in such a huge way that they changed the world for mankind. After the industrial revolution horses became limited in their use as recreation or sport, where the appeal of freedom and vitality is offered to their riders. Not long after this shift - horses began to gain recognition as "miracle workers" in the field of therapeutic riding by restoring mobility, self-esteem, and spirit of adventure to people with disabilities, as well as those who felt defeated by life's hardships.
For horses can educate through first hand, subjective, personal experiences, unlike human tutors, teachers and professors can ever do. Horses can build character, not merely urge one to improve on it. Horses forge the mind, the character, the emotions and inner lives of humans. People can talk to one another about all these things and remain distanced and lonesome. In partnership with a horse, one is seldom lacking for thought, emotion and inspiration. One is always attended by a great companion.
Horses as Healers
In the 20th century research into the ability of the horse to assist with recovery was initially focused on individuals with physical handicaps, such as wounded war veterans or people afflicted with polio. The concept gained worldwide acclaim in 1952 when a partially paralyzed (from polio) woman became the first female competitor to win an Olympic medal in an equestrian sport. Lis Hartel from Denmark won the silver medal for Dressage at Helsinki, and repeated this feat in 1956. This spawned an interest in hippotherapy (physical rehabilitation on horseback) which quickly advanced to the commonplace in the USA and Canada and ultimately led to the formation of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA). By 1969, these programs were seeing incredible results with improved physical and motor skills for physically, mentally and developmentally impaired clients. As a "side effect" to this work practitioners began to notice and advocate for the ability of the horses to help these people with social, emotional and behavioral disorders.
In the 1990's a few pioneers for the basis of equine assisted therapy began to surface such as; Barbara Rector, Carolyn Resnick, Ariana Strozzi, Linda Kohanov, Beverly Kane, and EAGALA - all of whom have led the way for programs such as Spring Reins of Hope to be successful in this field. Equine assisted therapy is practiced in most countries of the world and has seen a 233% growth rate since 2006. Research shows that people experience many physiological benefits while interacting with horses, including lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased beta-endorphin levels, decreased stress levels, reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension and anxiety, improved social functioning and increased feelings of empowerment, trust, patience, and self-efficacy.
Dogs, cats, and horses are all used for Animal Assisted Therapy with great success (endorsed both by APA, Division 17 and JAMA). Dogs are severely loyal. There is no one else who will see your good, regardless of your bad…and love you anyway. Cats can show you how to be free and reward you with acceptance when you have made the right choice. HORSES however are committed to immersion into the life experience. Horses will test and try your resolve to grow in spirit more than any other species. They use their wisdom, truth, joy, freedom, grace, congruence and love to stir the deepest parts of the heart. The heart of a horse is 5-7 times larger than the human heart. According to the Heart Math Institute, the heart has a larger electromagnetic field and higher level of intelligence than the brain. Horses help us to access a deeper understanding and experience of heart-based relationships and power.
Okay, Really…Why Horses?
The size and power of the horse can be naturally intimidating to many people, this alone can create a perfect opportunity to overcome fear and learn confidence. To accomplish a task with the horses despite of these fears creates resilience and provides wonderful metaphors to fall back on when dealing with other intimidating or challenging situations in life.
Horses are very much like humans in that they are social creatures and have very well defined roles within their herds. They would generally rather be with their peers. Horses have distinct personalities, attitudes and moods - what works well with one horse may not work at all with another. They like to have fun, they are curious, and are very expressive physically.
Horses provide vast opportunities for metaphorical learning.
Horses have no agenda with us, no hidden motives. They simply reflect the strength of our character, our heart, our commitment, our internal congruence and our self-limiting perceptions and beliefs. Horses have a distinctly amazing ability to mirror and reflect the exact internal landscape of our intentions on a moment to moment basis derived from what our human body language is telling them. The horse's willingness to trust humans arises out of their keen ability to read authenticity, silently measuring the coherence between our inner thoughts and outer actions. The horses pick up on what is actually happening internally with the humans and then will physically reflect this reality in a way for us to understand. The horse does not speak our words or listen to our convincing tone; they pay most of their attention to the part of us that is true and present at that moment. The horses are flexible in their perception because as the situation changes, so do they. For example, if you are angry and pretend not to be, the horse will only react to the anger that it sees. Change your internal state and you will see a different response in the horse. Within minutes a client is willing to trust and accept the feedback from the horse, as opposed to weeks or months with a human coach or therapist. This is because the client views the horse's feedback as genuine and constructive and often will demonstrate a desire to achieve or embrace the situation for the horse's sake.
Horses are honest and powerful messengers.
Horse wisdom is really very simple. People usually equate wisdom with knowledge whereas horses see it as truth. Humans often try to impress others more than themselves and in doing so they lose the truth of who they really are. Horses can show us how to be at home in our own skin and find comfort in "just being yourself." Horses are peaceful creatures and reward authenticity with unconditional love, support and acceptance. They will carry us no matter what our race, religion, color or creed because they can only see what is in our hearts and that it matches up with what is displayed on the outside. Employing the horses as masters of empathy provides a shortcut to recognizing hidden issues and emotions that can be deeply buried over time. Horses are extremely patient and willing to guide us. If needed to wait for us to understand their messages or to find acceptance about what needs to change. They will not give up on us as they will never stop offering chances for us to align with our true self. Horses have the tremendous capacity to forgive and start over…and over again. This quality is yet another lesson in growth and evolvement.
His neigh is like the bidding of a monarch, and his countenance enforces homage
Horses are tame, yet wild at the same time. No matter how domesticated horses have become each and every one of them can revert instantly to its primal wild instincts and be completely connected to their essence, ancestry and plug into the natural world. They reflect our own longing to have individuality yet to be connected to a community at the same time. Horses model essential qualities of trust, authenticity, honesty, intuition, listening deeply and a willingness of spirit. By connecting to horses and their natural world, we are able to follow by example and adopt these principals to serve our own best interests and spiritual growth.
One of the fastest ways to engage the brain in changing any behavior or emotion is to stay in the present moment. Being present means to be fully engaged in the moment with all of your senses attuned to the here and now. You are neither worrying about the future nor regretting the past but are experiencing the present moment as it unfolds. Animals, and in this respect horses only exist in the present moment - while they do have "memory" they do not engage in putting any focused energy to the past or the future. All that there is and all that matters is this moment. When working with the horses they actively engage you in their presence and into the present moment. It is pretty hard to concentrate on a past/future thought with 1000 pounds trotting toward you… By spending an hour a week or an entire day with horses there is a constant reinforcement of present moment thinking, which then becomes easier to replicate when you are away from the paddock. Horses have gentle spirits and offer us unlimited patience for us to understand, accept and become truly present in our lives.
Some Points to Remember About Horses as Healers:
A horse gallops with its lungs, perseveres with its heart, and wins with its character
- Horses perspectives are simple - the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us ALL
- Horses who have regained their free will, are safe and they consciously understand what is going on around them
- Horses don't distort the truth for egotistical reasons
- Horses are very connected to the natural world and their own authentic self
- The troubles that afflict horses all stem from the misuse, misunderstanding, torture and suffering that have been imposed upon them by humans
- Horses Never Lie. The rational mind is the part of us that can focus on words while ignoring what is going on. There is no life form that is dishonest like the human being
- Speed. Strength. Power. Grace. Beauty. Every physical horse is a living myth unto its beholder
- To see, smell, touch, fear and be with a horse in the flesh is to feel the stirrings of ancestral and archetypal energies from the last 35,000 years
- In the vein of religion - Christ, Vishnu, Muhammad - have all prophesied to return as the second coming of the Messiah on the back of a white horse
- Horses invite projections from the physical body - the somarchetypes represent balance, speed and strength and grace
- It is the equine talent of teaching us "freedom through relationships" that may be their greatest gift to mankind
- Horses change lives. They give people confidence and self-esteem. They provide peace and tranquility to troubled souls - they give us hope!
"A concept that is our foundation is honesty. We are crusaders for honesty, and it is one of our biggest challenges in dealing with humans. Watch our body language: We never lie or pretend we are feeling one thing and then do another. People try to fool us, but that is impossible when minds are joined. When a person approaches us with a false reality, feeling one way yet acting another, we simply respond to the truth of their emotion. We welcome children, as they are without guile but we do challenge those who are less than honest. It is one thing to be afraid and show it honestly; we will help you trust us. It is another to pretend you are a bully when you are really unsure and insecure. This false reality really confuses us, and we respond by exposing your deceit."