"A free horse that has been effectively and authentically trained by the human hand is always stronger, braver, more confident, more flexible, of higher status and simply more beautiful than a comparable one in the wild. Work with horses would not be interesting to me if it were not mutually beneficial. Riding a horse would not be interesting if it were not desired by the horses. Because a horse desires to express the magnificence that a human sees in him. And, in doing so, the horse informs the human how to perfect his authentic self."
Klaus Ferdinand Hempling
AEDP- Informed Equine Assisted Psychotherapy
Here are some interested facts about horses. As you read, it will begin to make complete sense to you why horses are our perfect companions in for psychotherapeutic healing.
Social-emotional wellbeing is instinctive for the horse
The challenges that humans suffer, such as, anxiety and painful emotions (signs of a dysregulated nervous system), lonliness and attachments to people that feel more painful than safe and secure, and difficulties attending to the present moment (living in the past or the future, or in one's head reeling with negative thoughts). Horses, because they are herd animals with exquisite capacities to attune to and respond to one another's emotional states, do not suffer in these ways (unless humans impose such suffering upon the horse). Nervous system regulation, secure attachment bonds, and mindful presence is built into the herd mentality. The emotional well-being humans desire, can be witnessed in the horse within their herd. When we learn how to interact with the horse, we access our own capacities for well-being.
The horse's heart-rate is lower than the human's and when attuned to the horse our heart-rates synchronize
Horses spend the vast majority of the time maintaining and monitoring a calm and attuned state among the herd. They provide regulation and comfort to herd members in distress. It is essential to the entire herd that each member is calm and secure. Horeses impart this instinctive affect regulating behavior onto their humans through licking, mouthing, sighing, breathing. This is why people feel calm and happy in the company of a horse.
Horses notice and react when a herd member or a human is not attentive
The horse requires that we maintain their level of calm and focused presence. Simple actions, such as cleaning a hoof, require constant attention, connection. A horse senses inattention and responds by acting in a way to regain one's attention. This could is a wonderful built-in bio-feedback, but the danger of inadvertantly getting stepped on, for example, provides a charged motivation to remain focused and present. Once this becomes natural in the presence of the horse, it is easily carried over to other aspects of life.
Horses have a leadership form that is collaborative, not hierarchical
This is a fact that is surprising to most people. It was to me. Leadership of the herd is fluid, not fixed. While there are tempermental differences, a competent horse will dominate or submit when necessary depending on the moment-to-moment needs of the herd. Many of us have been taught to "be the boss," or teo be the "lead mare," or "alpha horse." This is a short-cut way to stay safe with a horse, however, this is not how horses need to be handled. The simple act of leading a horse exposes the conflicts we have with authority, leadership, autonomy, cooperation and submission. Learning this form of leadership and collaboration is a practice deep practice in learning to be attuned to oneself.
Horses communicate through emotion, and they tolerate all emotions. What they do not tolerate is lack of clarity
When our actions do not match our internal emotions because we are hiding our emotions, or when we are experiencing conflicting emotions the horse will let us know and react by either tuning us out or becoming anxious. Again, this is a wonderful built-in bio-feedback for us to become clear and explicit about our emotions.
If you have read this far, you understand that what is so easy and natural for the horse, is exactly what is so challenging for humans. This is why horses are perfect partners in therapy.