Just lately, I’ve been hearing reports from a friend about her experience of equine psychotherapy. Once a week, she boards a train and heads for the hills, so to speak, to meet with her four-legged chestnut therapist (who, for the purposes of this post, is just out of view munching on turf in the scene above!).
By all accounts, she’s galloping ahead with this form of therapy, learning from her (increasingly less tentative) interactions with the horse, whose behavioural responses often reflect the dynamics she uses with friends and family. As someone in treatment for childhood trauma, her weekly sessions seem to yield strong, bodily-felt awarenesses about how she initiates and responds in relationship, which is doing her the power of good.
Equine psychotherapy, also known as ‘hippotherapy’ (from the Greek word hippos, meaning horse) involves using horses to engender growth and emotional healing in people suffering from all sorts of psychological conditions and wounding. The basic principle stems from the fact that horses, by and large, are natural co-operators and conciliators who demonstrate similar social behaviours to humans, just without all the complications.
Collaboration in a herd of horses happens as a matter of course, with members instinctively looking out for each other. Unlike the typical dog-eat-dog mentality that dominates human society, horses are natural peacemakers and when people (such as my friend) start to operate in an environment in which they are being worked with, rather than against, remarkable healing can happen. Horses don’t lie or cheat or manipulate – they simply respond authentically, with a natural predisposition towards fostering relational harmony. Horses are basically honest and kind.
Working with horses and equine therapists, people discover new ways of dealing with their problems, often ingrained over a lifetime. A relationship with a horse can help build confidence, compassion and trust, and flag up ways of being which run counter to the natural flow of life. Of course, the therapist’s role in the process is specialised and crucial, with horse whispering credentials being every bit as important as those accredited by the British Association of Counselling and Pychotherapy..
If my friend’s experience is anything to go by, hippotherapy is well worth exploring. At the very worst, it’s a session out in the soft earth and fresh air, with a majestically appointed creature, whose main interest is in getting to know you simply for who you are.
Written by Jacqui Hogan