Horses as Teachers & Mentors

Horses can be very effective teachers. 

Parental incarceration, Substance Abuse, and At-risk youth

What does at-risk youth mean? While there is no one-size-fits-all definition, generally an at-risk youth is understood to be an adolescent who is less likely to transition successfully into adulthood and achieve emotional stability as well as economic self-sufficiency. At-risk children and teens struggle with significant emotional disturbances leading them to develop dysfunctional behavioral patterns that can severely impact their immediate and long-range future success. This is particularly true for children and teens who are dealing with the intense trauma of parental incarceration and/or substance abuse.

Spending time around animals and working with them has been proven to effectively reduce stress, anxiety, and hyper-arousal. Unlike authority figures who try to talk to a troubled child or teenager in an effort to help, animals provide a quiet presence completely free of judgment. Yet they communicate their feelings and wants openly and give honest feedback to a human’s behavior via their own un-masked reactions in real time.

Horses can help heal a troubled soul

Children and Teenagers who witness substance abuse and experience emotional and physical violence in their homes often deal with a host of emotional imbalances and can benefit tremendously from guided therapeutic activities with horses.

equalizers

 

The following highlights a few of the benefits of working with our horses.

Observation and listening

Since horses have a different way of expressing their emotions than humans, we need to learn their specific body language signals and put them into context of the species ‘equine’ as well as each horse’s individual style of expression. Horses are highly complex individuals and can vary vastly from one another in type of personality. To be effective with others (horses or humans) we need to embrace this complexity rather than seeking the easier way out by reducing individuals to stereotypes and labels. During our time with the horse, we will constantly make an effort to wholeheartedly ‘listen’ to the animal by interpreting his or her body language through which the horse expresses emotions such as relaxations, fear, curiosity, and playfulness.

Body awareness and mindfulness

Horses constantly watch the body language of those around them including ours. As we are working with the horse, we find that moving our hands, arms, core, or legs either unintentionally too fast or too slowly may result in the horse reacting afraid, worried, or otherwise misunderstands our ‘signal’ we didn’t mean to give. As a result, around horses, we learn to be mindful of our posture and movement. We develop a better understanding of what our bodies are communicating and attain a more whole sense of self-expression.

Authenticity and self-reflection

Horses are extremely sensitive creatures. When we are not authentically who we portrait to be, in other words, if we wear a mask that differs from our IT (Inner Truth), horses can sense something is amiss. As a result, they will often act suspicious or even spooked around a human who is not authentic. Humans can more easily be fooled than horses by a person putting forth a face of bravery when perhaps his IT is one of severe insecurity. As facilitators of this horse program, the animal’s reaction to a person gives us great insight into what might trouble a person the most. Over time, the gentle non-judgmental presence of a horse allows participants to let their IT shine through and become more comfortable with their own authentic self. Acknowledging and embracing one’s own true self is one of the most important steps to realizing and actualizing human potential.

8 year old Connor often has trouble with focus and impulse control at home and school. When he is at the barn, he loves to hold a bowl of food for his big friend ‘Molly’ and very patiently waits until she is done eating.

Empathy, self-kindness, and patience

One of the most important ingredients to a healthy self-esteem is the ability to feel worthy of and extend kindness towards oneself. While horses have large bodies and possess unbelievable strength, like humans, they too are not always self-confident. At times a horse may get confused or afraid of an obstacle or something else he senses from the environment that we with our less sensitive senses cannot pick up. When we arrive at such a point, we are presented with a choice. Become frustrated and angry at the uncooperative horse or try to put ourselves into the horses’ shoes to try to view the world from his vantage point in an attempt to understand his feelings and help him resolve his fears in a kind and patient manner. It is through giving this form of kindness to another being that we can begin to allow ourselves to give kindness to ourselves at times when we need it the most. Thus a healthy shift towards self-acceptance and feelings of worthiness start to surface.

Impulse control, self-management, and leadership

Even the most anxious or dominant horses thrive with the right leadership from a human. At the beginning of the program, we match participants with horses who have a similar personality type. As students progress and advance in their personal growth, we may at a later point ask them to work with a horse who has a very opposing type of personality. In order to be an effective leader in the horse-human relationship, impulse control is of utmost importance. As leaders, we cannot allow our emotions to derail our decision-making and govern our behavior as if we were a victim of our own emotions. Instead, we learn to incorporate alternate strategies to inevitably arising emotions such as frustration, fear, or euphoria into our communication with the horse. Such new strategies are suggested by and discussed with program facilitators but their effectiveness is immediately critiqued in the most honest and straight forward way possible by the horse himself. Based on the horse’s reaction, a student has the opportunity to accept this feedback without becoming defensive and make necessary adjustments. Horsemanship skills, kindness, and assertion must be carefully balanced or the partnership between horse and human will not deepen. Students usually gain tremendous satisfaction and a sense of success when they can feel the powerful yet peaceful flow of energy between them and their equine partner as a result of their improving leadership skills.

We are trying to make this program available to children from hardship situations free of charge. However, we must find sponsors to cover the cost of the program if the guardians cannot cover the fee of $ 300.- per set of 10 sessions. Therefore availability for free participation is limited. Please contact us to inquire about availability. We would love to hear from you!