When I’m on a horse, the world disappears.
Unless, I’m trail riding when travelling – then the scenery around me intensifies. There’s no better way to be in the moment. When riding, it’s about you, your horse, staying balanced (literally) and breathing. Frequently.
Horses are intuitive animals. As herd members, they are highly in-tuned to the actions and reactions of those around them. As prey animals, their instincts make them sensitive to changes in energy.
And this is the basis for equine assisted therapy, or FEEL ® that pairs people and horses with a trained facilitator to promote physical, occupational and emotional growth. It purports to assist a variety of issues including anxiety, addiction, autism, lack of confidence and post-traumatic stress disorder. For some this sounds too, well, touchy feely. For others, it makes perfect sense.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely in group two.
Equine assisted therapies capitalize on the horse’s nature and our reaction to it. Size is important. Horses are imposing and no one is indifferent – love or fear them, you have a reaction. And this powerful reaction is the starting point, particularly for FEEL® (Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning) a specific therapy training program certifying a number of facilitators, including Bernadette Sibley from Phoenix Rising (named after her horse) and Brenda Elking from Red Horse Sense.
Many facilitators are also traditional therapists or from social service backgrounds. Sibley worked for Corrections Canada for decades so now runs a FEEL® program at Sandy Lane Stables near Brantford, Ontario.
Sandy Lane Stables is privately owned farm with several paddocks and a large stable that is also home to rescued bunnies and two potbellied pigs who sometimes roam free in the barn. It’s also home to horses Phoenix, Dante, Abby, Flora, Corey and Mikey, a dressage horse. Some are ridden by owners and in lessons, but others aren’t sound enough to ride so participate in the FEEL® program.
Equine assisted therapies like FEEL® don’t involve riding, but can including leading horses through obstacles. Recently added to this barn are two rescued miniature horses, Trig and Charlotte, who will work with kids too intimidated by full-sized horses.
Horses in any FEEL® program choose to work with a person, and it’s one of the first steps in the process. Once horse and participant are paired, the horse naturally takes over the role of therapist and leads the participant to face his or her own … truth. Horses are non-judgmental and completely authentic in their reactions.
According to Sibley, “horses will mirror your feelings and help you open up and ring out emotions you’ve been pushing down. You can disclosure things to horses that you wouldn’t disclose to others …. you can trust horses and reveal things you sometimes can’t tell a therapist.”
The process is emotionally intense, regardless of reason the participant of any age is there.
It’s emotional for the horse too. “The horse can also take emotional energy from you and keep it with them, ” Sibley says. “I’ve seem horses lie down after a session because the experience is so emotional. We have to clear horses often to allow them to let go of the emotions they’ve internalized.”
The idea, Sibley says, is to create a tranquil, peaceful place at Sandy Lane Stables. “It’s about letting go of a busy mind, being grounded and acknowledging emotions.”
Who might benefit from this form of learning? According to Horse Spirit Connections (that owns the registered trademark FEEL®) targets are organizations interested in unique team building and leadership activities and individuals wanting to build self-confidence, nurture emotional growth, manage stress, and improve well-being.
Phoenix Rising will run Equine Assisted Learning programs for kids during March Break 2016 for $350 per week, or $70 per day. Adult sessions are $125 each or $350 for five, although sessions are flexible according to individual need. 905-537-5110 or firstname.lastname@example.org
There are many books written about horses and healing including Riding Home: The Power of Horses to Heal by Tim Hayes available on Amazon.