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The Nature of the Horse as Healer

Horses have always had to escape predators. As prey animals, their survival has forever depended on their ability to run. While horses are fast creatures by nature, they are not the fastest. However, they can typically run for longer periods of time than most of their predators.

In order to remain alive, then, they had to become better at detecting potential predators than the predators were at remaining undetected. They had to sense that they were being stalked before a predator was able to get too close, and therefore able to overcome them before they could outrun him. So the horses’ task of surviving then, becomes directly related to their ability to perceive any potential threat that enters their environment, and to react quickly to this threat.

For this reason, horses are constantly watching everything in the environment. People often describe this as “flighty” or “nervous,” as the horse can react very quickly, often without warning. Yet this is the horse’s only way of ensuring his safety. What this means as a healer is that the horse has an innate ability to detect subtle psychological shifts within a person that render him unsafe.

How is it that a horse is so finely tuned to “read,” people, and thereby offer healing, even when the answers are not obvious? Well, when a horse scans the environment, a heightening of the sensations that provide feedback for the events in the environment occurs. These sensations consist of a sight, sound, touch, taste, kinetic sense, and a variety of physiological responses including heart rate, breath rate, temperature, muscle tension, and nerve impulses.

For the horse, some of these sensations may be more acutely developed, providing more accurate, or rapid, feedback, as to changes in the environment. However, together, they all comprise a part of the horse’s survival mechanism. And the extent to which these sensations are heightened depends on the amount of vigilance the horse has to his environment.

The more vigilance to the environment, the more heightened the horse’s responses will be. What this means when working with people, the horse, as a healer, registers with his physiological response to the person, the amount and direction of psychological vulnerability in the person. For example, if the horse reacts very strongly to a person, demonstrating obvious alarm, it is clear that the emotional intensity within the person is very strong. Then by disseminating the meaning of the horse’s response — interpreting his response as a herd animal — the direction of the person’s emotion can be ascertained. For example, if the horse demonstrates what would be classified in herd behavior as protective, toward the person, he is responding to a vulnerability — that needs protection — within the person.

Due to their innate nature, horses are tremendously adept healers. And in understanding their nature, and the meaning of it, humans, armed with horses, become incredible healers as well.

The Nature of the Horse as Healer

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2011). The Nature of the Horse as Healer. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 16, 2018, from


Last updated: 14 Jan 2011
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Jan 2011
Published on All rights reserved.