Equine Facilitated Learning – A Catalyst for Change
Simply put, most people who spend time with horses tend to feel better. The efficacy and strength of equine facilitated learning lies in the positive feelings people experience with horses. The feelings of wellness and relaxation experienced during these interactions open participants to change that which is difficult yet essential.
Research points to two key reasons why people are motivated to look inside themselves when working with horses: First, people feel fundamentally better around horses, and second, the desire to connect with the horse motivates us to alter our behavior and beliefs in order to strengthen the relationship. These behaviors and beliefs have far-reaching effects in our relationships with others and ourselves.
“Working with horses in a therapeutic setting,” writes Dr. Adele McCormick, a psychologist and EFT practitioner, “we are presented with the immediacy of establishing a relationship in which lack of alertness gets immediate feedback in the form of unruly, indifferent, confused, or rebellious behavior from the animal. Our attentiveness gains love.”
The immediacy that McCormick describes is the perfect environment for dissolving emotional blocks that undermine our growth and well-being. Because these blocks or fears work at deep levels, many of us are unaware of them. In working with a horse, however, we become aware of these obstructions, often for the first time. We are freed to experience the truth and validity of the moment and respond authentically.
This begins a transformative process that extends far beyond the immediate circumstance to other important relationships and situations in our lives.
Freedom from Judgment
Horses have been part of the human learning experience as long as both species have been on earth together. Although most people do not live with or around horses in this day and age, our desire to connect with horses remains strong, almost as if imbedded in our DNA.
Horses are prey animals and must “read” their environment in order to survive. As a result, they have an exceptional sensitivity to their surroundings and the energy it contains. Horses respond to a person’s inner dynamics as a matter of course. They have no moral judgment, and therefore, don’t perceive us as “good” or “bad.”
Connecting with a horse feels like unconditional acceptance. This sense of acceptance provides the impetus for discovering what we need to know about ourselves and what holds us back from relating to the horse. Without judgment, we have less fear of our discoveries about ourselves, and more ability to focus on the present moment.
Immersing ourselves in a relationship with a horse requires creative problem solving, thinking, and action. We are asked to tap our inner resources to discover a shared language that will allow us to engage favorably with the horse. Our efforts increase our confidence, build strength of character and suppleness of mind, and focus us absolutely on maintaining integrity in all the decisions we make.
- Dr. Ellen Kaye Gehrke, Ph.D. Book chapter: Walking the Way of the Horse: Exploring the Power of the Horse-Human Relationship. Chapter: Equine Facilitated Professional Coaching, Universe publications. 2008.
- McCormick et al., 2004, p.42, Horse Sense and the Human Heart
The following details of how we care for the herd reflect the care and concern we have for our clients. Without a healthy and happy herd, the interaction with people can be compromised.
The herd is well tended, always. This is an essential aspect to our success because the horses want for nothing and can therefore be totally available during interaction with participants. The bottom line is that horses need good grass, hay and fresh water, free of chemicals, to thrive. But to be happy, horses need freedom to move. Horses are nomads and are happiest when they can walk about freely. We have built large pastures on the 112 acres allowing the herd to wander in all seasons. We do not use artificial nutrients or pesticides on our grass or the hay we put up every year. The horses have access to fresh water or to flowing stream fed tanks. Our stalls have impermeable membranes protecting a “mattress” that simulates the softness of turf. This allows for better circulation in their legs and cleaner, dryer stalls. The barn aisle is wide and paved with recycled tire tiles, making it safer for horses to stand and move through.
Our 7 horses are seasoned professionals, having served for over a decade in this practice. Several have been here since they were foals. We have small, medium and large horses, each one bringing different lessons and insights for participants. You won’t find a lot of information about each specific horse because the horses need to be fresh for you, with no definition or expectation.
Working with our clients is their only job. Only the staff feeds and handles our horses.