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Why Horses?

 There are several reasons why horses are used in psychotherapy:

  1. Non-Verbal Communication:

    • Horses are highly sensitive animals and are adept at reading and responding to non-verbal cues. In therapy sessions, interactions with horses can provide valuable insights into an individual's non-verbal communication patterns, helping therapists and clients explore emotions, boundaries, and interpersonal dynamics.

  2. Mirror Effect:

    • Horses are known to mirror human emotions and behaviors. This mirroring effect can help individuals gain insight into their own emotional states and behavioral patterns. Interactions with horses provide immediate and honest feedback, fostering self-awareness and personal growth.

  3. Grounding and Mindfulness:

    • Engaging with horses often takes place outdoors and involves physical activities such as grooming, leading, or riding. This can promote a sense of grounding and mindfulness, helping individuals stay present in the moment and connect with their surroundings. Outdoor activities also contribute to a therapeutic environment that is different from traditional indoor settings.

  4. Metaphorical Learning:

    • Horses and their behavior can serve as powerful metaphors for various life situations. Working with horses in therapy allows individuals to draw parallels between their interactions with the animals and their own challenges, facilitating metaphorical learning and symbolic understanding.

  5. Trust and Relationship Building:

    • Building a relationship with a horse requires trust, patience, and clear communication. Individuals who may struggle with trust issues, communication difficulties, or relationship challenges can benefit from the process of developing a bond with a horse. The positive interactions with horses can translate into improved interpersonal skills.

  6. Emotional Regulation:

    • Horses can be sensitive to changes in the emotional states of humans. Interacting with them can provide individuals with opportunities to practice emotional regulation and self-control. The process of managing one's emotions in the presence of a horse can have therapeutic benefits for those dealing with mood disorders or trauma.

  7. Empowerment and Confidence-Building:

    • Accomplishing tasks with a horse, such as leading or riding, can contribute to a sense of achievement, empowerment, and increased self-confidence. Success in these activities can be particularly impactful for individuals who may struggle with self-esteem or feelings of helplessness.

  8. Engagement and Motivation:

    • For some individuals, traditional talk therapy may be challenging or less engaging. Interacting with horses provides a dynamic and novel therapeutic approach that can be particularly motivating and appealing to those who may be resistant to more conventional forms of psychotherapy.

  9. Trauma Recovery:  

    • A connection with a horse can help begin to repair damaged neuropathways in the brain for individuals who have experienced trauma and have difficulty connecting with others.

Horses are large and powerful, which creates a natural opportunity for some to overcome fear and develop confidence. The size and power of the horse provides for wonderful metaphors when dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life. Horses are very much like humans in that they are social animals. They have defined roles within the herds. They would rather be with their peers. They have distinct personalities, attitudes, and moods. An approach that seems to work with one horse, does not necessarily work with another. At times, they seem stubborn and defiant. They like to have fun. Horses provide vast opportunities for metaphorical learning.  Most importantly, horses have the ability to mirror exactly what human body language is telling. Horses are honest, which make them especially powerful messengers.

In addition, studies conducted by the Institute of HeartMath provide a clue to explain the bidirectional "healing" that happens when we are near horses. Due to the large size of a horses heart, the horse's electromagnetic field is much stronger than ours and can actually directly influence our own heart rhythm! Horses have what science has identified as a "coherent" heart rhythm (heart rate pattern) which explains why we may "feel better" when we are around them...studies have found that a coherent heart pattern or HRV is a robust measure of well-being and consistent with emotional states of calm and joy–that is, we exhibit such patterns when we feel positive emotions. A coherent heart pattern is indicative of a system that can recover and adjust to stressful situations very efficiently. Often times, we only need to be in a horses presence to feel a sense of wellness and peace. In fact, research shows that people experience many physiological benefits while interacting with horses, including lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased levels of beta-endorphins (neurotransmitters that serve as pain suppressors), decreased stress levels, reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension and anxiety, improved social functioning; and increased feelings of empowerment, trust, patience and self-efficacy.

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