You don’t have to know anything about horses to participate in professionally facilitated equine assisted activities because all the work is done on the ground, and there is no horseback riding involved.
Horseback riding can be exhilarating and fun, but when you are riding a horse, the relationship is based on your dominating and controlling that horse. When you take riding lessons to learn to be a better rider, the learning is based on an unequal instructor/student relationship. Both relationships are based on the hierarchy of a more powerful or knowing person being in control of the activity.
The beauty of doing ground-based horse work is that you get to be you and the horse gets to be a horse, and you are free to interact with and respond to each other in the moment! This natural and uninhibited experience allows you to be more who you authentically are, and to have whoever that is be mirrored by unfettered horse’s responses to you. You form a relationship with the horse that is respectful and cooperative.
That interaction can be an eye-opening experience.
When we do our equine work within a healing or learning framework, the horse is a team member, and the coach assists the participant in discovering their own innate wisdom and strength, as it is reflected and illuminated by the horse’s responses to them.
I remember one day my husband and I, who enjoy a generally peaceful relationship, had experienced some tensions in the morning before going to the horse farm to work.
Although we were not visibly upset with each other when we got there, our normally mellow and friendly horses were all over the map. They wouldn’t settle down because they were mirroring our inner distress, and it was valuable for us to see that. They huffed and chuffed and nipped at each other, and wouldn’t cooperate or stand still for us, and isn’t that just what human arguments are like?
It isn’t just negative reacting that they do, though.
Horses will sense when a person is ill, tired or emotionally distressed, and it isn’t unusual that one of the horses will follow and stay close to someone for an entire session who is not feeling good. Sometimes the horse will lean into them, nuzzle them, comfort them in some way.
A horse once walked up to a session participant and rested his nose gently on her chest, right over her heart. Just stood there that way. The woman’s face crumpled, tears came, and she wailed, “How did he know that I am grieving my father’s death today? How did he know that my heart hurts?”
Troubled teenagers who are used to controlling their families or their classrooms with bad behavior settle right down when a half-ton of great big horse walks up close, sniffs them up and down from inches away, and just stands there, eye-to-eye, not giving an inch. Your move, Tough Guy.
Horses who participate with people in exercises allow themselves to be led, pushed, pulled, patted, groomed, smooched, leaned upon, and hugged. They are mostly very cooperative and attentive through all of that, but they have a lighter side, too.
A client drove up to the arena one day and got out of her car. She entered the ring where the horse she would work with that day awaited. The horse took one look at her and jumped over the fence out of the ring, then jumped right back in and stood there watching her. Whenever she moved, he would repeat this behavior, until she (and all of us) were in stitches. BOING! BOING-BOING!! And yes, our client was having a problem with some inner ambivalence that was a lot easier for her to discuss and strategize after all the horse-jumping and mood-shifting.
When horses are free to be themselves with you, they bring great gifts of clarity and love, truth and connection. It is a clean relationship, and we humans often don’t have many of those, so it is restorative and invigorating.
The wisdom of the horse meets the wisdom in you, and you both get to come out and play.