“A horse is the projection of peoples' dreams about themselves - strong, powerful, beautiful - and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existence.” ~ unknown
What is Equine Facilitated Learning (“EFL”)?
EFL is part of a rapidly growing industry in which trained professionals and horses partner to foster healing and to provide learning and therapeutic growth opportunities for people... that can often be mutually beneficial for the animals as well. Individuals that can benefit from EFL include but are not limited to: those struggling with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder, sexual/physical/emotional abuse, autism, the developmentally challenged and those in residential or recovery programs can all benefit from this type of therapy.
While each session is completely customizable and dictated by the parameters of a client’s experience and needs, ultimately individuals spend time in the presence of or working directly with horses on the ground or mounted if required, in a variety of different reflective, active and experiential activities. Equine-facilitated learning helps people to slow down and ground themselves in the present in order to gain self-awareness and insight, shift old patterns, transform limiting core beliefs and learn new ways of being and doing that are more congruent, authentic and empowered .
The Role of the Horse in EFL:
As prey animals, horses live in the present moment and are highly intuitive, observant and attuned to their environment. They have the ability to pick up on subtle changes in the world around them in order to survive. In this heightened state of sensory awareness, they are able to notice body language, intention and arousal / energy levels not only in their herd but in other animals, including humans. Being around horses and developing a refined focus grounded by the equine relationship can help to regulate our nervous system and release energy so that an inherent calmness can prevail.
As sentient beings, horses are capable of experiencing their own emotions and attending to their biological needs without hesitation or self-consciousness, and with nothing to hide, while perceiving and responding to the emotional state of others. They pick up on things that are sometimes beyond our own awareness. They can tell when humans are being incongruent or dishonest with themselves – such as when we wear masks to cover up undesirable feelings or when our body language, actions and emotions don’t match up – and they respond accordingly, providing powerful feedback about our assumptions, beliefs, emotions, behavior, insecurities and inner conflicts. Patient, gentle and forgiving, they are powerful mirrors that help us to notice ourselves and our blind spots without judgment or criticism.
And following from this, horses have much to teach us about leadership, authentic communication, connection, body language, healthy and flexible boundaries, collaboration, assertiveness, asking permission, and “checking our egos at the door”, in order to build relationships with them (and with others) that are based on mutual respect and trust. For people and horses that have both experienced trauma and abuse at the hands of other humans, learning to trust again through bonding and respectful relationships in addition to healthy boundaries and non-judgmental acceptance can be a powerful experience.
It can be a life changing experience when an individual can stop being ashamed of who they are based on previous experiences or preconceptions and are able to confidently embrace their true self. The immense size of horses and their ability to fully express their inner drives and natural instincts help us to accept and master those parts of ourselves we fear the most. The ability to respectfully and with clear intention ask a horse to do something, such as move a certain way or respect one’s boundaries, can provide a sense of empowerment, courage, and confidence that may have been a foreign concept previously.
The repertoire an individual can develop with the help of an equine partner can help shape and facilitate a more confident and fulfilling future.