Words: Nicci Talbot
Therapeutic horse work can increase self-awareness, confidence, and improve communication and leadership skills at work. It can also teach us how we relate to others and help with conflict and unresolved issues in our personal lives. We spoke to Equine Affinity about a new equine therapy workshop for improving relationships.
Equine Affinity is a Sussex-based company offering workshops with horses for therapeutic benefit and personal development. This type of work is growing in popularity around the world and research shows it can be successful in helping humans to heal. It can increase confidence, self-esteem, trust, and help us to gain clarity and resolve emotional blocks or patterns that we’d like to change.
“We started Equine Affinity in 2011 and this is our first relationship workshop,” says founder and horse specialist Catherine Bray. “Some people may have blocks in room-based [talking] therapy, particularly teenagers who can find it difficult to talk through issues. This work can give you a greater appreciation of non-verbal communication as we talk ‘through’ the horse using projections. We do a lot of herd observation work, so you make clear observations on what the horse is doing and how it is behaving. What the person says can reveal a lot about them and how they respond to others.
“We work on problem solving and offer people choices about what they’d like to do with the horses. How you choose to connect to the horse lays a foundation for how you connect to other issues in your life. You communicate with the horse using body language rather than words, so it can give us a greater appreciation of non-verbal communication.” Only a small percentage of our communication is verbal so this is a skill worth fine-tuning.
They see couples and individuals who want to work on interpersonal relationships and emotional issues. “Through a series of exercises on the ground with the horse, you can potentially gain insight into your style of relating which will assist you in your relationships,” says Cat. “You are given options on how you wish to engage with the horses. Their natural response to you and the situation gives you material to learn from – with guidance and support from the facilitators.”
Cat can’t mention specifics as client work is confidential but they have had lots of good feedback and testimonials. “One couple had a choice of exercises to do and in the end they just wanted to be with the horse. It’s energy work, being in the presence of a horse and an awful lot came up for them. Things shifted and there was an interesting relationship dynamic between the couple afterwards.”
Why work with horses?
Horses have a highly sensitive and attuned ‘gut instinct’ because of their ‘second brain’ – enteric nervous system, which has more nerve cells than the spinal cord (central nervous system). It means horses are instinctive, intuitive and in tune with their environment and each other. They are pack animals and have a social hierarchy or role within that as we do so we can make useful comparisons. They react authentically and non-judgmentally reflecting back the emotional state of a client. They provide a non-threatening, non-verbal and experiential way to change patterns of behaviour and release emotions. If we learn how to change our behaviour within a session, for example becoming more assertive, then the horse will respond differently. Horses give us instant feedback and we can explore our responses to that feedback.
“We learn a lot from being around horses and we learn experientially,” says Nicky Smith, co-founder of Body Wisdom Thai massage school. “We learn how to be clear, congruent and authentic. We tangibly feel the power of the energetic body and the necessity of clearly expressed boundaries. Horses are focused and good at being present in the moment. They don’t like systems that are disorganised. They mirror our energetic status so we have to become more organised energetically – more grounded, present and effective.”
When: Saturday March 16th 2013 from 9.30am – 1.30pm
Where: Little Dunks Farm, Tonbridge, Kent TN12 7HX
Facilitators: Veronica Wilson – Relate counsellor and arts psychotherapist and Catherine Bray – equine specialist from Equine Affinity. Plus the lovely horses!
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07950 690089.