Within the past two decades, the phenomenon of Equine Assisted Therapies has brought a profound and realistic way of healing humans through contact with horses. Having worked within the industry in both the psychological and physical therapy aspects, I have seen the astonishing results that are possible.
Sometimes the horses are used merely as tools to facilitate the benefit to the humans. Other times, the well being of the horses is brought into the equation as an actual part of the process. This latter approach can be integral to the most permanent healing as participants experience compassion and empathy, allowing personal growth and healing with respect for all life.
When the dynamic of the Holistic approach is applied, things like children talking who had not in years; releasing of traumatic memories; circulation and feeling improving in legs/hips/back of a rider, etc. become common place. I love what horses can inspire in us.
There was a study done through our University through the observance of a program facilitated by my horses and myself years ago. The conclusion of the study was that horses in therapeutic service built resiliency in humans, especially children. I know that the struggles of my own childhood might have consumed me if not for the healing power of the horses in my young life.
Every horse owner knows that they have a shoulder to lean upon, an ear to listen and a gentle soul who cares in the embodiment of their horse(s).
My personal dream has been to create a space in which people with disabilities (Hippotherapy) and those in need of emotional support (Equine Assisted Learning and Psychotherapy) could commune with the horses in sanctuary at Dharmahorse. We do provide this very thing in a limited way. Our vision is to expand it in a facility supported by compassion and respect. While many programs see the horses as potentially disposable, I think such a protocol sends a mixed message to people who may also feel “expendable” or imperfect.
Horses come in all sizes, shapes and temperaments. Appropriate qualities for the job they will do are, of course, a priority. But the gentlest, best schooled horse in the world can be “untrained” in a matter of days with incongruent handling and confusing expectations. It behooves us to see both the client and the horse (as therapist) as partners in the process and not burden the equine, either physically or mentally, beyond his capabilities. They are individuals, just as we are.
Within the equine assisted therapeutic programs, there exist numerous possibilities for children as young as 3 or 4 years to elder equestrians in their 70’s, 80’s and beyond (I have students in these categories who learn focus and who stay agile thanks to easy, gentle horsemanship). And there are national and international organizations that oversee the facilities, the instructors, the programs and the therapists of their members.
The value of the horses in these settings goes well beyond their contribution as “mounts”, tools or objects. Horses will become ambassadors of kindness and respect; teachers of self control and commitment. If you are passive with a horse, he ignores you. If you are aggressive with a horse, he will fear you. If you are assertive with a horse, he will respect you… if you are trustworthy, he will trust you. We can learn a lot from a horse.