Archives for September, 2011
Introductions can be tough. Especially if you are a horse. For it is at this time that all things are sorted out. Between pinned ears, flashing heels, and high pitched squealing, questions like who is in charge, what the rules are, how will they be enforced, and what is to be expected, are answered in a rather final way. And once these things are settled, there is peace, once and for all. An experience today introducing a new mare to a few pasture mates made me wonder just what would happen if people did introductions the way horses do. As I led the young mare over to her new paddock, I worried a little about the possible outcome. After all, her two new friends were already pretty well bonded. And making matters even more challenging, one was a 6 month old foal, and his protective “papa” a 23 year old retired gelding. If my new mare decided to get in between the bonded pair, I could almost see the old gelding racing at her with teeth barred. Or, even worse, what if the timid little foal got caught in the middle?
For many people, horses, themselves, are a bit esoteric, and equine therapy is even more so. And for those of us who practice such an experiential modality, verbal explanations can sometimes be challenging. Yet clearly for those who have been helped by way of the horse, equine therapy is a very powerful tool. In order to help demonstrate the efficacy of horses, from the perspective of a client, I have dedicated this blog to the following testimonial:
With the focus of equine related wellness activities shifting from the traditional handicapped riding model to more of a holistically therapeutic approach, and the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association changing it’s name to the Professional association for Therapeutic Horsemanship, the face of equine therapy is changing. More fledgling organizations are forming, increased amounts of research are being performed, and limits of what mental health gains can be achieved with horses are constantly being challenged. Among these many changes has been the emergence of a brand new organization, out of Canada, and the first to put the word “wellness” in its name.
For those of us in the mental health field, the term “life coach” is a bit bothersome. While Marriage and Family Therapists, Professional Counselors, Psychiatrists, Psychologists, and Medical Doctors are all governed by overseeing regulatory agencies, Life Coaches are not. So when horses are thrown into the mix, and a hybrid of equine therapy and life coaching emerges, calling itself “equine assisted life coaching” is this good for the field of equine therapy?
According to Wikipedia, Emotional intelligence (EI) is an ability, skill or, in the case of the trait EI model, a self-perceived ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups. While much has now been written about emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, has been most closely associated with the term. Goleman presents a model of EQ that defines EQ as a wide array of competencies and skills that drive leadership performance. Inherent in this model are four main EI constructs: Self-awareness, Self-management, Social awareness, and Relationship management. Certainly these skills are important for the plethora of human interactions we encounter, and study of them has centered on these human interactions, however, the question remains, does emotional intelligence cross species? That is to say, would a person who exhibits a high degree of emotional intelligence with people, display an equitable level of intelligence with animals, like say, a horse?
If one thing is obvious on the ten year anniversary of 9/11, it is that the world has changed. Air travel takes longer, increased security procedures seem to pervade aspects of our lives we never thought they would, and we are still at war. But perhaps the most insidious effect of 9/11 is a pervasive mistrust that seems to underlie almost everything we do. We simply don’t know what to expect anymore. It's not surprising then that the rates of a host of disorders, from PTSD to depression, anxiety, and adjustment disorders, is up. While the need to find ways to calm and center ourselves is now more present than ever, these ways are few and far between. And what makes the situation perhaps even more challenging is that for many people, what they now feel, just feels normal. Like a collective PTSD, societal hypervigilance begins to simply feel like the ways things should be. And for many of us, the opportunity to become aware of just how we are functioning is also fleeting. We simply don’t have the time, or the place. However, there are some places where we also don’t have the choice to not become fully present. Working with a horse is one of those places.
While the relationship between horses and humans is one of public fascination and private intrigue, it is also something that evades easy description. Although many have tried to put words to the magical connection that can occur between an equine and his human, sometimes words are not enough. And for this reason, we often look to exhibits such as “The Horse” produced in partnership by the The Kentucky Horse Park’s International Museum of the Horse, and the American Museum of Natural History. For those interested in experiencing a visual depiction of horse and human collaboration, this exhibit is not to be missed. Here is the official press release: