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Horse Sense: Horses and Psychotherapy

General

Use Your Horse Sense

We want to feel better. We want to experience peace and positive self regard. We have hope for developing an accepting and kind internal voice instead of a bitter and critical tone that tears us down. Why are these most basic sounding goals so ephemeral, fleeting and hard to grasp? As Warren Zevon would say like trying to “grab ahold of that fistful of rain”?

A Plethora of Therapies

When we think about seeking our most basic and important goals, we imagine learning, new perspective and insight. The idea of relief from psychic and emotional pain feels like riches beyond our imagination. To achieve this, we gravitate to many and disparate things: psychology, psychotherapy, motivational speakers, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Buddhist philosophy, music, different diet, more exercise, medication, volunteering to help others, more socializing, it’s a long list. Seems reasonable. Sounds good. One or a combination of these should do it. And of course these things are powerfully good and effective things, but we are leaving something important out.

Learning from Animals

We humans think pretty highly of ourselves. Sure we create a lot of problems, but we trust ourselves for the solutions too. Sort of like a quote from a few elections ago, “there is nothing wrong with America, that cannot be solved with what is right about America.” So of course when we have human problems, we look for human solutions. But remember, we share the earth with over 5,000 species of mammals. We share a tremendous amount of our DNA structure with these creatures. In the case of the Great Apes, upwards of 99% To my mind this makes them nearly indistinguishable from us genetically and the rates are very high with all other mammals as well. So, while we don’t share language, there must be important things that we can learn from our non-human roommates on the planet, right? Absolutely right!

Animals Language of Healing

Most human cultures, and especially Americans, love pets. Between dogs and cats we have nearly 200 million animal companions. When you include other pets like birds, hamsters, rabbits, etc we are approaching a 1 to 1 ratio of human to animal. We know the profound pleasure and comfort that our pets can add to our life, we admire in them such qualities as “complete honesty”, “unconditional love”, total trust”, and “unending loyalty and acceptance.” Just reading these words feels good and we know that it is unrealistic to expect such things from other humans. This is part of the different types of communication we can have with animals. How Animals Heal Us and Teach Us

Going Big: The Emotional Connection with Horses

While our dogs and cats communicate a lot to us. There is something different and powerful about being in the presence of large and powerful animals that is not replicated even if we have a 130 lb dog living with us. I am speaking most specifically about horses. Horses are one of those animals that we instinctively feel a bond, biologically, culturally and historically. They evoke feelings of immense power, strength, freedom, durability but often maintain a deep air of peacefulness and gentleness about them. In recent years, their efficacy in helping humans heal such conditions as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are abundantly evident and demonstrated in numerous studies.

Human and Horse Reciprocity of Care

The horse is a mirror to your soul. Sometimes you won’t like what you see, sometimes you will.

It turns out that the healing is a two way street as certain humans can help heal abused horses. It also turns out that one of the more effective forms of recovery from stress reaction and abuse can occur in helping others in need so there is a built in therapeutic reciprocity. McGinnis Meadows, a working ranch in Montana, is such a place. In one such encounter, Shayne, a ranch leader interacts with Jesse a troubled horse and abuse survivor:

Their first encounter was alternately frightening and intriguing.
She knew that she could not trust him…And yet, when the plaid
Wearing broad shouldered man approached, he seemed different
Safe. “Hey there” he said in a quiet confident voice. “My name’s
Shayne. Take all the time you want. No need for any trouble here.”
 

Jesse turns away from Shayne and moves away seeking safety. But she continues to watch the seasoned cowboy out of the corner of her eye as he calmly kicks his round toe boots at the dirt, plays with a length of rope in his callused hands and gazes up at the vast Montana sky..

That’s when she surprised herself. Without thinking, she turned back
around facing him head on. It wasn’t a threat, she was curious. Just
As quickly he was moving towards her, repeating his name and extending
His hand with kind eyes and a smile half cocked and playful. Despite the
Tightness in her limbs, Jessie moved towards him.”I knew it wouldn’t take
You long to say hello”the Cowboy said, his tone easy and light-hearted.
“Psychotherapy Networker/ January/February 2020,
P. 48 “Meet You in Mcginnis Meadows”


The process of healing for Jessie, the horse with a wounded spirit here has begun. The road to recovery will be uneven but this is a huge first step, The development of high quality focus, feedback, balance, adjustment, connection, responsiveness. All of these are the qualities that comprise attunement. These are the major qualities that define the healing power of great therapists, human or horse. Horses Help Humans Be Real, Honest, and Present | Liz Letson | TEDxBemidji

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