Horses Healing People
My name is Tina Rawlings and I have offered Equine Facilitated Therapy since 2008 after doing some extra training to widen my work as a qualified counsellor and psychotherapist. The photograph featured was taken in 1973 of ‘Lucky’ and I at what was then a local riding stables, Woodgreen Farm in Goffs Oak, Hertfordshire. Mrs Taylor used to to let girls like me muck out and lead riders in exchange for free rides ourselves.
Years later when I first enquired about offering Equine Facilitated Therapy as an adult psychotherapist at a local stables and explained how this would work, the kind owner said, ‘Well it sounds a bit deep for me, but I know that horses help people!’. She had had, like most of us, some pain in her life. A life centred on family, stables and these incredible animals. She knew them inside out and knew absolutely that the relationships with them was what had mattered and strengthened them all through dark times.
What is it about horses?
When I was 11 years old and was angry, starving myself and was lost and unhappy, my friend Helen suggested going with her to ‘the stables’ to ride. I went and the world opened out.
Here be dragons! My council estate world expanded. The smell, the presence of these beautiful exotic, (to me) creatures that evoked a profound sense of stillness and calm in me has never gone away. This is supported by research that demonstrates that our human heartbeat can slow around horses or that horse and human heartbeats can synchronise if the horse has ‘choice’ about being in the proximity of the human. https://thehorse.com/136859/scientists-study-horse-human-heart-coupling/
I wanted to be strong like the other girls and I began to eat again. Do not get me wrong they were and can be scary, and wild and it was not a quick fix then. But I gained a sense of purpose and a sense of deep acceptance, which I could start to believe in because horses never lie! I learned quite fast that if I was true to how I felt they never minded, and they never judged nor punished me for my feelings……ever.
This is how Equine Facilitated Therapy works. I knew intuitively then what I now know. Unlike humans’, horses, devoid of egos can be relied upon. Their only agenda is that of nature’s, to relate, (as they are herd creatures like us) and to survive. Being creatures of flight, when danger is sensed they run and running together is in their best interest. They are made to tune into their herd members emotional states for survival. They like to know exactly where they are with you and then you become ‘safe’.
So, in Equine Facilitated Therapy the idea is that no riding is involved where movements and actions must be performed in a way to ‘get the horse to do what we want’. The idea is that once a person is with a horse that person will be within the horse’s emotional radar. Horses have a highly sensitised and long-range radar.
Most of us at some point in our lives lose touch with our deepest emotional self. One client expresses how horses helped them, she states, ‘they pick up and mirror back what you are unaware of in yourself and help you to deepen your relationship with yourself and others’.
An example might be. I am believe that I am feeling confident and self-assured or acting that way. However, once I am in the arena with a loose horse, I start to see that the horse is avoiding me perhaps, keeping away and when I am prompted by the therapist to begin to explore what is really going on in my emotions, I start to become aware of and to express my hesitancy or fear, maybe my shame that I am feeling unacceptable in some way. As I do so, the horse visibly relaxes lowering its head and starts to walk nearer, finally coming and placing its head on my shoulder. The therapist invites me to look at what the horse is doing and to wonder what this means. I start to cry, because I have been accepted. It is as if the horse knows exactly what I need. This released emotion in a human being, (my tears in this case), has often been named, ‘the pain of contrast’. Like crying at the end of a movie where it all goes right in the end. We know what we have missed when it is final provided. It is almost as if the horse is expressing in its behaviour. ‘There you are, and now you are reliable for me to be near. You will be safe for me to run with because you are emotionally present and available – you were unreliable before because your ego was engaged in pretending you were ok.
Sometimes a person may be given exercises to work through with the horses who are entirely unharnessed and free to move where they will within the arena. Through our relationship with ourselves and the horses we can learn a lot about how we communicate and relate to others. This can be directly translated to life outside of the equine arena. It can be so valuable in teaching us what we are often unaware of in ourselves. In the present moment with a horse, clients must adapt and tune into themselves in order to obtain the co-operation of the horses, so must learn a different way of relating that might possibly be out of their comfort zone. Through this honest and non-judgemental interaction new possibilities are experienced. Some people believe that to relate to a horse they need to be a certain way. Horses do not mind if you are angry, grieving or joyful as long as you are congruent with yourself and are not pretending to be what you are not. In this sense they love us purely being exactly who or what we are. No masks please!!
Next time you are in the stable, field or arena with your horse, try tuning into what your real emotional self is with, maybe even say it out loud, observe how your horse responds and perhaps wonder what this means for you. I had a friend who came through a lot of difficulties. She came to visit the stables and said ‘hello’ to some of the horses over their stable doors. ‘What is it about horses?’ she exclaimed, ‘whenever I am around them, they make me cry’. She had absolutely needed to be a ‘tough cookie’ to survive but she was healing now, and the horses knew that it was time for her heart to soften. They always yawned when she cried. This is a well-documented phenomenon from therapeutic literature. After a real feeling has been energetically released in talking therapies – there is often a yawn. In horses it has been said to be a socialised calming response to an intense emotional interaction – https://www.saddlebox.net/why-do-horses-yawn-it-might-not-be-why-you-think/ so maybe a lot happened in the exchange between my friend and the horses? There is a lot we do not fully understand yet but if you have known horses, like the stables owner I first approached for this work, you will know that horses heal people!!