How Do Horses Heal ?
In the presence of horses, our bodies experience profound physical shifts.
* Heart Rate Variability (HRV) increases and synchronizes with that of the herd
* Cardiovascular function improves
* Quality of sleep improves
* Immune function improves
* Nervous system, hormones, cardiovascular system, and other biological systems come into alignment
* Attention and focus improve
* Problem-solving skills improve
* Heart rate slows
But physical healing isn't the only healing horses provide.
has important psychological benefits:
Decreased tension & Stress levels
Decreased sense of loneliness or isolation
Increased authenticity in relationship to others
Improved leadership skills
Increased sense of connection to self and others
Increased emotional resilience
Increased ability to regulate emotion
Increased ability to moderate emotional states of others
Increased ability to set healthy boundaries
Increased trust in the body's emotional processes
Horses transform lives.
Here's the research on HOW
Part I: EMOTIONAL MIRRORS
Horses naturally reflect the emotional states of humans, making a human's inner emotions concrete and visible in real time. If a human is excited or afraid, horses may respond with pricked ears, tense necks, or swishing tails. If a human is calm or grateful, horses may respond with softened eyelids, softened lips, a lowered head, and even licking and chewing. When we take deep breaths around horses, they will often sigh along with us or offer us their muzzles and ask to breathe with us in tandem.
We can't lie about or deny how we actually feel in the presence of a horse because the horse reads our internal states rather than whatever we may be telling others (or ourselves). Through our work with horses, we learn to cultivate authenticity, being honest about how we actually feel. We're able to break the pattern of the "divided self," in which we pretend to feel one way while actually feeling quite another in mental isolation.
Through their ability to feel our emotional states, horses offer us empathy and connection. They show us that we are not really alone.
Furthermore, when we can physically see evidence of our own emotional states through a horse's body language, we're more likely to be able to shift these states at will. We learn that we don't have to remain angry, restless, or stressed; or we learn that we can allow ourselves to play, to seek creative outcomes, or to trust the processes of empathy and care at work in our lives. Through their body language, the horses show us whether or not our emotional shifts have been successful!
Part II: CONNECTION AS A SURVIVAL NEED
All mammals require connection for survival. We are hard-wired to seek out connection and belonging within a community, and if we lose or never learn healthy attachment patterns, we fail to thrive -- even when our basic physical needs are met.
As herd animals, horses are especially driven to seek supportive connection with others, offering EFL clients an opportunity to experience safety in bonding and connecting with another. Experientially, such bonds enable the human brain to "reset" or reshape its blueprint for healthy connection. Often, all a client needs is the opportunity to feel a healthy connection, to be nurtured and met in connection with another, in order to shift unhealthy patterns of connection in his or her life.
Part III: HOW HORSES CONNECT WITH HUMANS
Physically, the electromagnetic field created by the horse's heart extends in a sphere approximately 60 feet wide (30 feet from the heart in all directions). Research indicates that HRV (heart rate variability) of horses and humans tends to synchronize when humans are within this range of herd members. Because of the powerful heart-to-heart communication among horses and humans, humans can benefit from the naturally coherent HRV patterns of horses, being brought into physical and energetic balance simply through proximity to the members of the herd.
Additionally, horses respond immediately and intuitively to humans' emotional states. When humans offer feelings of sincere gratitude, horses approach and seek physical connection. When humans offer feelings of rage or terror, horses move away, seeking to lessen the intensity of the connection. When humans offer a state of deep relaxation, horses often go into meditation with them, remaining at a comfortable distance but in focused mental/emotional connection.
More research is on the way!
Sources: 1. Effects of a Form of Equine-Facilitated Learning on HRV: https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1014&context=paij
2. Pilot Study of the Influence of Equine Assisted Therapy on Physical and Behavioral Parameters Related to Welfare of Horses and Patients: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34944303/
3. Cardiac Coherence: The Inner Power That Horses Reveal To Us: https://coachingconcaballosnp.com/en/cardiac-coherence-the-inner-power-horses-reveal-to-us/#:~:text=Horses%20have%20a%20heart's%20electromagnetic,people's%20electromagnetic%20fields%20affect%20us.
4. Heart to Heart: A Quantitative Approach to Measuring the Emotional Bond Between Horses and Humans: http://horseconnection.com/heart-to-heart-a-quantitative-approach-to-measuring-the-emotional-bond-between-horses-and-humans-august-2007/