Why are horses so effective for use in therapy? Being prey animals, their life depends on the awareness of their environment. This sensitivity to non-verbal stimuli, or “horse sense”, becomes useful to us as therapists and specialists in that it gives us valuable information about the client that we might not have learned through verbal communication. We often say that horses mirror human emotion because the non-verbal behaviors of the horse truly reflect the energy, emotion, and intent of the person. This reflection gives clients insight into their own feelings and provides awareness of patterns and behaviors that may be hindering their ability to find effective solutions.
Not only are horses prey animals, they are very social forming dynamic herds with their own leaders, followers, outcasts, and “bullies”. Observing these herd dynamics and each distinct personality allows the clients and the treatment team to apply powerful metaphors. Horses are not just horses in the arena. They become people in your life, situations, and feelings. Metaphorical learning is such a powerful technique in therapy that it can help produce outstanding results for even the toughest clients.
Ask anyone who owns a horse and they will tell you that it’s a lot of hard work! Because we have to work hard physically and mentally to work with horses, it can teach us valuable tools that will help us in all areas of our lives. Respect, cooperation, work ethic, responsibility, attitude awareness, and assertiveness are just some of the skills we learn in being around horses.
Horses are large and powerful and to many are intimidating to be around. Working with horses becomes a perfect opportunity to overcome fears and build confidence. Clients can then take these skills and apply them to other situations in life that may be challenging or difficult.
Horses become the teachers by showing us healthy communication, understanding, appropriate boundaries, patience, and resilience. Working with horses allows us to practice these skills right away in an emotionally safe environment. Horses become our partners providing emotional support and healing as we learn how to build relationships with them. Through this relationship, clients are able to explore and understand how they interact with others in their lives. Horses are honest and non-judgemental, providing us with immediate and observable feedback that can be powerful for our clients in many ways.