Archives for July, 2011
Although equine therapy has been used for a wide variety of psychological and behavioral conditions, and weight loss has been attacked from seemingly every possible angle, is it possible that working with horses can somehow hold benefit for those struggling with weight? To be sure, losing weight is it’s own animal, and one that is not so easily tamed. Much of the reason for this is that it is a very complex psychological condition that is often addressed physically. Yet the strong emotional, cognitive and behavioral precursors, and underpinnings of being heavy are often not so easily overcome. After all, it is much easier to swallow a pill, or follow a diet than actually figure why the weight may have come on in the first place.
The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, also known as NARHA, originally formed in 1969, is now the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) The association tagline is "Ensuring excellence and changing lives through equine-assisted activities and therapies," and is designed to reconstruct the now outdated NARHA model. Because equine therapy is such an evolving modality, there are now a myriad of ways in which horses can be helpful in the therapeutic realm. Yet NAHRA focuses mainly on programs that are designed for handicapped riders.
Before Ceasar Milan came onto the scene, people thought that fixing bad behavior in dogs had little to do with the dog owner, and even less to do with the relationship he/she had with the dog. Well, we now know that the way a dog acts is often a telling reflection of the way the owner handles him/her. And what Ceasar has done for dog owners, Buck Brannaman has done for horse owners. The newly released movie, “Buck” tells the story.
The following is an example of the connected nature of horses as well as an excerpt from my most recent book, ON THE BACK OF A HORSE: Harnessing the Healing Power of the Human-Equine Bond. I had begun working with Bill three years before, when a horse show judge suggested that he could help with my “rogue” thoroughbred, Keeper. From the time I started with him, Bill’s knowledge of horses amazed me. He literally thought like a horse. I walked Cat a little closer to where he was standing, resting one arm on the jump standard. “Hey Bill, do you think horses can tell if people are dissociating?” I asked. He looked at me quizzically. “If they’re what?” “You know – like, not there emotionally.” “Well they’re herd animals.” He looked at me as if this, in itself, answered the question. “What does that mean?” I had never before thought about what it would mean to be a herd animal. “That’s how they look at people, too, like part of the herd.”
When thinking about addictions, some things are quite obvious, while others are much more disguised. Clearly, those with substance abuse issues of any kind are still subject to a healthy dose of social stigma. Often this desire to hide what is not considered acceptable by the masses is what fuels the emergence of a multitude of “exclusive” addiction centers. For a sense of what these day spa like treatment centers look like, just google “Malibu drug treatment.” Yet this avoidance of the problem also disguises a much larger issue. That is, that aside from the war in the middle east, addiction issues -- from prevention efforts to treatment, loss of work time, health claims, and addiction related incarcerations -- claim the largest share of national spending. So it seems fitting then that treatment centers scramble for the latest and greatest way to treat this massive social problem. Of late, equine therapy has become one of these nascent methods for getting to the root of what causes a person to turn to the bottle, pill, or powder.
When we enter the environment of any animal, we automatically enter an implicit agreement. We are subject to the expectations, perceptions and desires of that animal, and often, even without our full awareness of ever making such an agreement. More often than not, we are too blinded by our own desires, perceptions and expectations for what should occur between the animal and ourselves to notice what it is the animal may bring to the table. And given these circumstances, we might wonder if an animal, such as a horse could voice his part of the agreement, what would it be?
Certainly we all want to be more authentic -- that is to say what we mean and mean what we say. Further, although there a number of approaches, and no less written about becoming more authentic, there are not so many ways to understand how to feel authentic. Enter equine therapy. When working with horses, very little is communicated verbally, and instead the relationship with the horse is almost exclusively conducted through feel. Because of this felt communication that exists between horses and humans, equine therapy presents a unique opportunity for a person to experience what is authentic for him/her. However, in order to do this, it is first necessary to understand and interpret the responses of the horse correctly. The horse’s behavior must not be analyzed through our narrow lens. When this occurs, interpretations become not only our own projections, but also fall into the category of anthropomorphism.