Horses are sentient beings with feelings, thoughts, emotions, memories and empathetic abilities. They’re active partners who can evoke emotions in the humans who work with and around them. They make such great partners because they can mirror and respond to human behavior. In that way, horses can also help promote people’s health and well-being, which is why certain destinations are already finding ways to incorporate equine therapy into their wellness programming.
The Perfect Match
Being that they’re herd animals, horses rely on an acute stream of sensory data to sense safety or danger; amazingly, they can hear a human heartbeat from up to four feet away. Research on heart-rate variability has indicated that horses are even able to synchronize their own heartbeats with that of human beings.
Other studies on equine therapy have found that people who participated in mental health and addiction treatment programs involving interactions with horses reported therapeutic benefits, and horses have a number of idiosyncracies that make them perfectly suited to healing.
Sensitivity. Horses are sensitive, acutely aware of their surroundings and quick to react. They watch for the slightest movement and look for threatening body posture. Horses know how to discern the difference between a calm, nonthreatening approach and anxious, nervous energy.
Clear boundaries. In a horse’s world, the boundaries are clear and easy to understand. They look for strong leadership and are willing to follow after they find respect and trust. If we provide contradictory behavior, they’ll start to question and challenge our authority to lead.
Teamwork. For horses, teamwork is expected and respected. They can’t lie or overthink a situation, and they respect fair consequences. They approach every interaction honestly; learning to listen to what horses have to say is powerful and can be the catalyst to individual change.
Intuition. Horses react to stimulus and, when working with a skilled facilitator, this allows for an opportunity to use the horse as a barometer; their intuitive nature provides a window into the participant’s personality. By understanding and feeling how sensitive horses are, how kind and forgiving they can be, facilitators can guide their clients to becoming better individuals by identifying with specific horse behaviors.
Incorporating equine therapy into wellness programming will serve to benefit clients physically and psychologically. You can offer clients the option to work with horses first, then return to the spa for a shower before their wellness treatments. But ideally, they would receive a service first, then go work with the horses. If the client is more relaxed prior to their equine therapy, the outcome may be more beneficial as the person isn’t carrying all that stressed-out body language. Horses mirror a person’s emotions and read their bodies, so if someone is tense, the horse will pick up on it and therefore be less relaxed.
It’s beneficial ultimately to do a series of 12 equine therapy sessions. Have clients journal about their feelings after each session, and they can discuss it with the appropriate professional afterward.
Morag Currin is a spa consultant with a career dedicated to empowering, teaching and strengthening well-being through insightful training that engages oncology esthetics. Currently, Currin is working on a program that encompasses both spa and equine modules to support mental wellness, providing equine assisted learning sessions and events for people with mental health issues.